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Native American Stories : The Good and the Bad Brother

Gabil & Habil (Cain & Able )by Yurafo Fatima

Myths and Tales from the San Carlos Apache

The Good and the Bad Brother

A long time ago they say there were many people living at a certain place. There were two brothers who agreed to go to this settlement. As they were going along they came upon a bullsnake. The older brother said he was going to kill it and the younger told him it was a bad thing to do and that he should not do it. Each reiterated his statement three times and then the elder brother ran to the snake but the younger brother ran after him and catching him, held him while the snake escaped.
They went on for some distance until they came where a hawk sat on a tree. The elder brother said he would kill it and the younger brother said, “No.” The older brother repeated his intention and the younger again said, “No.” The first ran toward the hawk but the second one caught him saying the hawk was a poor thing and should be spared. He shouted to the hawk and it flew up. The elder brother asked why he had caused the hawk to get away when he was about to kill it. The younger one said just because it was a poor thing he should not kill it and urged that they should hurry on.
As they were going along they came to a horse which was very thin. When the elder brother said he was going to kill it, the younger one objected, saying it was a pitiful animal through which one could even see the grass on the hillside beyond. Each of the brothers repeated his statement the third time and then the younger brother drove the horse away. The elder brother reproached him for driving the horse away when he had said he was going to kill it. They went on and came where a man was living with whom they stayed and worked for the food they ate. The larger boy did not work but the smaller one worked for the rich man who gave them their food. The big boy who didn’t work was lazy but the boy lived well.
The larger boy talked to the chief saying that the smaller boy bragged that he could do whatever the chief told him to do. “What boy?” the chief asked. “The small boy I live with,” the other replied. “He says he can do that. ‘Well I will jump in the red boiling metal down the hill, and the next morning I will be inside sitting on something,’ he says and if he says so he can do it.”
The chief sent the older boy home and next day sent for the younger boy who when he came was told that he was reported to have said that he could remain over night in boiling metal. The boy said that he had not said it but was nevertheless commanded to be ready in four days to undergo the ordeal.
The boy returned to the place where he was living and sat there unhappily wondering why his brother was making such reports about him. So he sat as the days passed until three days were gone. When he realized that the next day he must go for the ordeal he felt distressed and wondered what he should do. Just then the horse he had saved came to him and spoke. “Boy, why are you unhappy?” he asked. The boy replied that the next day he was commanded to get into a pot of boiling lead. “Well, do not be disturbed by that. You saved my life over there and I will save yours,” the horse said to him. He directed him to take four pails and a knife saying he would come to the boy who was to lead him to the place designated. The boy was to cut off the horse’s head and fill the four pails with the blood. He was to wash himself with one of these pails of blood, drink one, and pour the remaining two into the pot of lead before he jumped in. The remains of the horse were to be placed to the east.
When the days were all passed the chief called all the people together and commanded that on that day the boy was to do this. When the boy led the horse there the people laughed for one could see the grass through the emaciated sides of the horse. The boy cut off the horse’s head with the sharp knife he had brought and filled four buckets with the blood. He then took the horse to the east. He washed himself with the contents of one pail, drank one, and poured the other two into the boiling lead. Having done this he jumped in. The people all went back to their homes. The next morning they came there and opened the kettle of lead. The boy was not dead but sat inside alive. He got up and came out. He returned to his home and continued to live there happily.
When considerable time had passed the older brother informed on him again. He came to the chief and said the boy who lived with him said that he could cut the cottonwood which, if one cuts it down, stands next morning as it was before so that it can put out leaves again. The chief said the boy should do this. The next day he sent for the boy and told him that it had been reported that he said he was able to cut the cottonwood so that it would remain dead. The boy denied having said this, but the chief said that while it might be he had not said it, he must nevertheless do it. Four days were specified as the time before this must be accomplished.
The boy went back to his home where he sat about thinking what he should do, quite unhappy. When there were two days of the four remaining and he was wondering how he would cut the tree the bullsnake came to him and asked why he was so unhappy. The boy told him of the cottonwood tree which, if cut down, was the next morning always the same as before. This he said he had been ordered to cut down. The snake, saying that the boy had once helped him and saved his life, agreed to save the boy’s life in return. He asked how long before the task must be attempted. The boy replied in two days. The snake then said he would go there the next day and eat off all the leaves so they could not grow out again, after which the tree might be cut.
The chief sent for the boy and told him the day had arrived. They went with the boy where the tree stood, getting there about sunset. The boy alone saw the snake as it came down the tree. The boy chopped the tree down and returned to his home. The next morning the tree was not growing; it still lay there a dead tree. The chief said the boy had saved his life and gave him suitable rewards. The boy lived happily again.
After considerable time had passed his brother informed on him again, telling the chief the boy had said he could make the rich man’s daughter well again. The chief, saying he would find out, sent for the boy. He told the boy it had been reported that he had said that he could produce a child from the rich man’s daughter in one night and have her well again the next morning. The boy denied saying it but the chief said that nevertheless in four days he must do it or his head would be cut off.
The boy went back to his home and sat about for three days, unhappy, thinking how he should do it. When there was only one day left the hawk flew to him and asked why he was unhappy. The boy told what he was expected to do, to cure the sick daughter of the rich man and produce a child. The hawk said that since the boy had once saved his life he would save the boy’s life. The man’s daughter’s illness was due to a screw in the crown of her head. The screwing down of this piece of iron had nearly killed her. It was being forced down by the dancing of some people by the river’s edge. The boy was to screw it up again and the girl would get well. The boy thanked him for this information. The hawk also promised to come to the house in the middle of the night. A black rattlesnake would make a noise and then there would be a baby.
When the four days had passed he came where all the men were gathered to look on. He raised the screw in the head of the sick girl who sat there and she was well again. He went back to his home. In the middle of the night the hawk sat on the house. A black rattlesnake made a noise and just then the baby was born. When daylight came the chief said the boy had made good and saved his life. The boy went home and lived happily.
When some time had elapsed the older brother again went to the chief and said that the boy had used words that were not good. He had said that he could kill Delgit and bring his tongue and hide. The chief said that the boy should do it and sent for him. When the boy came he asked him if he had said he would kill Delgit and then told him to do it on the fourth day and bring the tongue and hide. If he did not do it his head was to be cut off.
The boy went to his home and sat around, unhappy and wondering how he should do this. When three days had passed and only one day remained the white horse through which one could see grass came to him again. The horse asked why the boy was unhappy. The boy replied that it was because it had been said that he had claimed he could kill Delgit. The horse said the boy had once saved his life and that he would save the boy’s life. Telling the boy to take a long knife and a short one, he proposed they should go to Delgit since he knew where he lived. At the horse’s suggestion the boy mounted him and the horse ran with him to the far distant place near which Delgit lived.
When they were near the place the boy dismounted and the horse gave him instructions, “Yonder is the one called Delgit,” he said. “Sharpen the knives well. That one will not be able to see us. You must mount me holding the long knife and I will run under him four times back and forth. When I run under the fourth time you must stab upward. When you have killed him cut out his tongue and prepare the skin.” The boy sharpened the knife and mounted the horse which ran under Delgit. When Delgit turned that way the horse ran back under to the other side. This he did four times, Delgit whirling from side to side in vain. When the horse ran under the fourth time, the boy, striking upward, stabbed the monster which, shaking from side to side, fell dead.
They came up to the body which the boy cut open. He removed the skin and the tongue. The skin was so heavy the boy could not lift it but dragged it to the bank of a ravine in which the horse stood while the boy pulled the skin across his back. The boy then sat on the load and rode back to the settlement near which he deposited the hide and tongue. When the appointed days were passed, he came to the chief, bringing the tongue. “This, which I am bringing you, is the thing you spoke of,” he said. The chief said that later he would determine the matter. The boy having said the skin was lying at a distance, the chief sent some men to drag it there.
The boy was then told to go to his home and eat and afterward to return. The chief sent out for all of the people to come together to see if anyone knew Delgit’s tongue. When the people were assembled, the chief began asking them what was the color of Delgit’s tongue. When not one of them knew it, he sent for an old man who was living below, that he might ask him. When the old man had come, the chief asked him what kind of a tongue Delgit had. The old man replied that the tongue was forked, saying, that when he was a young man he once saw it. “That is the one,” the chief said, “for it is forked,” and then he sent the boy home.
The boy remained there a long time happily. After a time, he began to think about his brother ? how he seemed not to like him. He concluded he would report on his brother.
He went to the chief and said that a man who was living at a certain place had said that he could do what he, the boy, had done. The chief replied that he would determine the matter and sent the boy home again. He sent for the man and asked if he had said he could do what the boy had done. Although the man denied he had made the boast, the chief told him he must do as he was reported to have said in four days.
The man went home and sat for three days very much disturbed. When there was only a day left, he went where the poor white horse was and led him back. He brought there four vessels and a knife. When the time was up, he led the horse to the appointed place and cut his throat. The blood was only sufficient to fill one of the vessels. He drank some of this blood, washed in part of it, and poured the small remainder into the metal. He jumped in and the cover was replaced. Early next morning, the cover was lifted but he was not there. There was nothing left and the people all laughed about it.
The boy continued to live happily.


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