Tales of the North American Indians
The Trickster Kills The Children
Nihansan was travelling down a stream. As he walked along on the bank he saw something red in the water. They were red plums. He wanted them badly. Taking off his clothes, he dived in and felt over the bottom with his hands; but he could find nothing, and the current carried him down-stream and to the surface again. He thought. He took stones and tied them to his wrists and ankles so that they should weigh him down in the water. Then he dived again; he felt over the bottom, but could find nothing. When his breath gave out he tried to come up, but could not. He was nearly dead, when at last the stones on one side fell off and he barely rose to the surface sideways and got a little air. As he revived, floating on his back, he saw the plums hanging on the tree above him. He said to himself: “You fool!” He scolded himself a long time. Then he got up, took off the stones, threw them away, and went and ate the plums. He also filled his robe with them.
Then he went on down the river. He came to a tent. He saw a bear-woman come out and go in again. Going close to the tent, he threw a plum so that it dropped in through the top of the tent. When it fell inside, the bear-women and children all scrambled for it. Then he threw another and another. At last one of the women said to her child: “Go out and see if that is not your uncle Nihansan.” The child went out, came back, and said: “Yes, it is my uncle Nihansan.” Then Nihansan came in.. He gave them the plums, and said: “I wonder that you never get plums, they grow so near you!” The bear-women wanted to get some at once. He said: “Go up the river a little way; it is not far. Take all your children with you that are old enough to pick. Leave the babies here and I will watch them.” They all went.
Then he cut all the babies’ heads off. He put the heads back into the cradles; the bodies he put into a large kettle and cooked. When the bear-women came back, he said to them: “Have you never been to that hill here? There were many young wolves there.” “In that little hill here?” they asked. “Yes. While you were gone I dug the young wolves out and cooked them.” Then they were all pleased. They sat down and began to eat. One of the children said: “This tastes like my little sister.” “Hush!” said her mother, “don’t say that.” Nihansan became uneasy. “It is too hot here,” he said, and took some plums and went off a little distance; there he sat down and ate. When he had finished, he shouted: “Ho! Ho! bear-women, you have eaten your own children.”
All the bears ran to their cradles and found only the heads of the children. At once they pursued him. They began to come near him. Nihansan said: “I wish there were a hole that I could hide in.” When they had nearly caught him he came to a hole and threw himself into it.
The hole extended through the hill, and he came out on the other side while the bear-women were still standing before the entrance. He painted himself with white paint to look like a different person, took a willow stick, put feathers on it, and laid it across his arm. Then he went to the women. “What are you crying about?” he asked them. They told him. He said: “I will go into the hole for you,” and crawled in. Soon he cried as if hurt, and scratched his shoulders. Then he came out, saying: “Nihansan is too strong for me. Go into the hole yourselves; he is not very far in.” They all went in, but soon came out again and said: “We cannot find him.”
Nihansan entered once more, scratched himself bloody, bit himself, and cried out. He said: “He has long finger nails with which he scratches me. I cannot drag him out. But he is at the end of the hole. He cannot go back farther. If you go in, you can drag him out. He is only a little farther than you went last time.”
They all went into the hole. Nihansan got brush and grass and made a fire at the entrance. “That sounds like flint striking,” said one of the women. “The flint birds are flying,” Nihansan said. “That sounds like fire,” said another woman. “The fire birds are flying about; they will soon be gone by.” “That is just like smoke,” called a woman. “The smoke birds are passing. Go on, he is only a little farther, you will catch him soon,” said Nihansan. Then the heat followed the smoke into the hole. The bear-women began to shout. “Now the heat birds are flying,” said Nihansan.
Then the bears were all killed. Nihansan put out the fire and dragged them out. “Thus one obtains food when he is hungry,” he said. He cut up the meat, ate some of it, and hung the rest on branches to dry. Then he went to sleep.