The Hungry Fox and the Boastful Suitor
An Iroquois Legend
One day Fox was out walking along. He'd been hunting but had no luck. It was a long time since he'd eaten. His stomach was growling so loudly he could hardly hear anything else. Suddenly he realized someone was coming singing a song. Quicker than the flick of a wren's tail Fox leaped off the path and crouched down on his belly in the bushes. Louder and louder grew the song. Then Fox saw something begin to appear over the crest of the hill. It was a single heron feather. Fox moved his front paws, getting ready to leap out at the bird he thought the feather was attached to. But as the feather lifted higher and higher, he realized it was no bird at all. It was the feather attached to the top of a gustoweh, the head-dress of an Iroquois man whose face now bobbed into sight as he came over the hill on horseback.
If he sees me, Fox thought, I can forget about my hunger forever! It was well known that fox skins were prized by the Iroquois. Fox tried to make himself smaller than a mouse, hoping he wouldn't be seen.
Closer and closer the man came. He was wearing fine clothes and Fox could hear the words of man's song very clearly now. It was a boasting song.
"No one is braver than Heron Feather," sang the young man.
"And I should know that for I am he. No one wears finer clothing. No one is a better fisherman. If you doubt this, look and see."
He was on his way to the lodge of a young woman he had been watching for some time. He was going to try to impress her and her mother so that the girl would ask him to marry her. His song and his fine clothing were part of the plan.
But Fox was no longer listening to Heron Feather's song. He was not seeing those fine clothes. All of Fox's attention was on what he was smelling. Fish. That large bag hanging from the young man's blanket roll was full of fish! Fox's mouth watered and his tongue hung out. It had been such a long time since he had eaten fish. His fears left him. The young man on the horse passed him by, but Fox's thoughts were far ahead.
Yes, Fox said to himself. I think there is a way. As quickly as he could, he ran along through the woods keeping out of sight of the road. Soon he was ahead of the Iroquois man. Just around a bend, Fox laid himself down by the edge of the path. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth so that his tongue hung out in the dirt. Not moving a muscle, he waited. Soon he began to near Heron Feather's boasting song.
Heron Feather was so intent on his singing, trying to find a few more words to describe just how fine he looked in his new white buckskin breech-clout that he almost rode right past Fox. When he saw Fox out of the corner of his eye, he stopped. "Enh," he said, "what is this?" He climbed down from his horse.
"Kweh, a dead fox?" Picking up a long stick he carefully prodded the side of the animal. It did not move. "Nyoh," he said, "it is surely dead." He bent down and looked at it closely. It was skinny, but the pelt was in fine condition. He picked it up by the tail. "Hmm, it has not been dead for long. It only stinks a little bit." When he said that, Fox's mouth opened a little and his lips curled back from his teeth, but Heron Feather did not notice.
"Hmm," Heron Feather said, "maybe I should skin it out now." When he said that one of Fox's eyes twitched a little, but Heron Feather did not notice. "Neh," he went on, "I should not skin him out now. If I do I may dirty my fine new clothes. I will just take him with me." He walked back to his horse and began to unlace the bag. "Weh-yoh," he smiled, "when Swaying Reed's mother sees this fox I caught she will know I am a great hunter. Then she will surely allow her daughter to bring me marriage bread." He dropped the fox in with his fish, laced the bag shut and climbed back on his horse. Soon he was singing again. This time it was a song about how great a hunter Heron Feather was.
Inside the bag Fox lay still for a few minutes. Then he began to gnaw at the side. When he had made a hole large enough, he began to drop the fish out, one by one. Finally, when all the fish were gone, he made the hole larger and jumped out to freedom and his best meal in many days.
Too busy with his singing, Heron Feather did not even notice. He rode all the way to the village where Swaying Reed lived. He stopped in front of her mother's lodge and sat there on his horse, singing til many people had gathered around. He sang of his beautiful clothes, of the many fish he caught (he actually had traded his mother's beaded moccasins for them), of all the animals he hunted and trapped. Swaying Reed and her mother came out of the lodge and watched as he reached back for his bag. Now he would show them what a good provider he was!
When he held up the bag and saw that it was empty with a hole in the bottom he stopped singing. Turning around, he rode silently away. He learned that day that boasting songs do not make a person great. It is one thing to find a fox and another skin it.
Return to Iroquois Legends