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Native American Stories : The Clever Numskull


Tales of the North American Indians

The Clever Numskull

Three brothers lived together. They had no sisters, and their mother was sick. The youngest was supposed to be a silly fellow, and was always doing outrageous things. One day they killed a pig. The two older brothers went to fetch salt, and told the youngest one to remain and watch the house, and take care of their mother and the pig. They said they were going to salt down the pork, and keep it for the long days. After they were gone, he went out and found some men at work, and told them that if there was a man there named Longdays, he had a pig for him. One of them declared that that was his name; forthwith the pig was delivered to him, and he carried it off. By and by the other brothers arrived, and wondered what had become of the pig. “Why, Longdays has been here and taken it away! Did not you say it was to be kept for Mr. Longdays?” “Oh, you blockhead! we told you it was to be kept for ourselves when the days become long next summer.”
Some time after this, Coolnajoo was sent to buy a horse. He made the purchase, and brought the horse home. But there was a long avenue, lined by trees and bushes, extending from the highway down to the house; and when he came to the head of this lane, he gravely told the horse that this was the road, and bade him go on directly to the house. Saying this, he removed the halter; and the horse kicked up his heels and made for home. The boy arrived home, wondering at the stupidity of the horse; and on relating the case to his brothers, they wondered at his stupidity. “You numskull!” they exclaimed, “you can never do anything right. Why did you not ride him down the lane?” “Oh, I will do better next time,” he promised.
So, as the old mother got no better, they sent him to find and bring home a woman to assist in nursing her and in taking care of the house. He took his bridle and started. He succeeded in his expedition, and the woman came with him all quiet and kindly till they reached the head of the lane; but there and then he made an attempt to put the bridle on her head, and assured her that she had to carry him on her back, and walk on all fours down to the house. Persisting in his determination, the terrified woman screamed, broke from her persecutor, and ran.
Chopfallen and sad, he went into the house. What was his trouble? they asked him. “Why! I attempted to bring her home in the way you directed; but she screamed and tore away from me, and crying went back, as hard as she could go.–“Oh, you abominable fool!” they exclaimed; “was that the way to treat a woman? You should have taken her by the arm, and occasionally given her a kiss.” “Ah, well!” he cried, “I shall know better next time.”
The next time he was sent for a pig. He led the pig all right until he came to the lane. He then tried to make the pig walk on his hind legs; and when the terrified animal squealed and kicked, he attempted to conciliate it by kissing it; but he received such a return from the tusks of his captive as made the blood flow, and caused him to let go his grip,–and poor piggy went off home at the top of his speed.
Poor Coolnajoo returned crestfallen to his home, to relate his adventures, and to be blamed and lectured for the hundredth time for his outrageous stupidity.
His next expedition was for a tub of hog’s-lard. This he purchased; but on his way home he passed over a portion of road that was dried and cracked by the sun. “Oh, my old grandfather!” he exclaimed, “what a terribly sore back you have got,–so naked and dry! You shall have my lard for salve, and 1 will rub it on.” So saying, he began spreading the lard over the dry road; and when it was all gone, he went home. “Why have you not brought the lard?” “Oh, dear me! I came across a poor old man lying in the road with his back all sore and cracked; and I pitied him, and spread the lard over him.” To this the brothers made no objection until they ascertained the truth of the case; when another attempt was made to teach him a lesson, and with the usual success.
His sixth expedition was in quest of a quantity of needles. These were purchased, but on his way home he passed a newly reaped field of grain. He looked at the stubble, and perceived the holes in the top; he was sure that when the rain should fall, the water would fill all those holes, and concluded that it would be a very benevolent act to stop them up. This would be a capital end to which to apply his needles. So he opened the packages, and carefully placed one in every straw; and when the supply was exhausted, many remained undoctored. “Alas, poor things!” he cried, “I cannot help you any more, as my stock is out.” So he went home without his needles.
Afterward he was sent for some red flannel. Passing a graveyard on his way home, he looked at the crosses, and took them for poor old penitents kneeling in the cold with outstretched arms, and carefully tore up his roll of red flannel and covered their poor shivering shoulders.
After this the two other brothers went together to town to make some purchases, and left him to take care of the sick mother. They charged him to give her drink, and especially to wash her face. He obeyed the directions, but supposed he must wash her face as he had seen her wash clothes,–by thrusting them into boiling water. So he set on the great pot; and when the water was boiling, he took up the old woman and thrust her head into it, and held her there. When he took her out, she was dead, and her lips were contracted to a grin, which he affected to mistake for laughter’. and placed her back in the bed, and leaped and laughed at her quiet and pleasant countenance. He ran to meet his brothers, and told them that their mother had not been so quiet nor looked so well this long time. She had not stirred nor spoken, and she was laughing all the time. They went in, and were horror-stricken. “Oh, you outrageous simpleton! what have you done? You have killed your mother. We shall all be executed for murder.”
But now Coolnajoo began to exhibit his shrewdness, and soon became as clever as he had hitherto been simple. “Never you fear,” said he; “we will turn the incident to good account, we will make some money out of it. Wait you here; I will run for the priest.” So off he ran posthaste, and informed the priest that his mother was dying, and requested him to come with all haste, to perform over her the indispensable rite of extreme unction. The priest started immediately; but Coolnajoo outran him, and took his dead mother and placed her against the door, inside. The priest reached the house, burst the door open, and tumbled the old woman over. Coolnajoo sprang to raise her. Alas! she was dead. “Oh!” he exclaimed, wringing his hands and weeping, “you have killed our mother!” All three gathered round, and the horrified priest did not know what to do. They threatened to accuse him of the murder. He finally succeeded in pacifying them, and gave them a whole handful of money to hush up the matter and say nothing about it.
The development of his shrewdness proceeded. The two other brothers went away one day, and left the place in his charge. Among other occupations he had to tend the pigs. These he sold; but in order to cheat his brothers, he cut off their tails and took them down to a quagmire near the shore, and stuck them all up in the sand. When they came back and inquired for the pigs, he told them they had broken out of the pen and rushed down toward the shore, and had sunk in the quagmire. They went down to see; and sure enough, there they all were, just the tips of their tails sticking above the ground. They seized hold of the tails, and tried to draw up the porkers; but the tails broke, and down into the mire sank the bodies, as they believed, and could not be found.
Soon his pranks became unbearable, and the brothers resolved to make away with him. They concluded to drown him. So they tied him up in a bag, and took him down below high water mark and buried him,–not deep, however,–and left him to be drowned when the tide came in. They returned; and he soon heard the “Uh! uh! uh!” of a drove of hogs, and called lustily for them to come to his aid. If they would uncover and untie him, he would lead them to a place where they could feast on chickweed to their hearts’ content. The hogs, attracted by the noise, approached the spot. Their noses were soon thrust deep into the soft earth. The bag was soon reached, and instinct alone was sufficient to pull it out; and they soon removed the string,–when up jumped Coolnajoo, who seized one of his deliverers, transferred him to the bag, and the bag to the hole, drove the others away to the field of chickweed, where they were kept busy till the tide returned and covered the spot where he was supposed to lie. In due time the tide receded, and compunction returned to the brothers’ hearts; they repaired to the spot and dug up the bag, mournfully chanting, “Our poor brother is dead.” Astonishment seized them when, on opening the bag, there, instead of the brother’s corpse, was a dead pig. Meanwhile Coolnajoo had waited at a distance from the spot until his brothers went down to the shore to look for him. When they returned, he was astride the ridge-pole, laughing at them.
They made another attempt to kill him. This time they planned better; they would take him to a waterfall and toss him in above, and let him be dashed to pieces in going over the rapids. So they tied him up in a bag again, placed it across a pole, and started for the waterfall. They became hungry on the way, and placed him by the side of the road, and went to get some dinner. While they were gone, a drover came by; and seeing the bag, he went up and gave it a kick. “Halloa!” he exclaimed, “what is all this?” Coolnajoo replied, and informed the drover that he and his brothers were on a money-hunting expedition; concealed in this bag, so as not to excite suspicion, he was to be taken to a certain place where they would all make their fortunes. He gave such a glowing account of the matter, and with such apparent truthfulness and sincerity, that the drover was deceived, and offered him a whole drove of cattle and sheep for his chance in the money-hunting speculation. The bargain was struck, and the parties exchanged places. But Coolnajoo gave his substitute some cautions: “You must be cautious not to speak, or the cheat will be discovered; my brothers must not mistrust that it is not I. By and by you will hear the roar of a waterfall; do not be frightened. Before lowering you to the place where you are to find the money, they may give you two or three swings. You must keep still, and not speak; and after that you can have it all your own way.” So saying, he went on to the market with the drove. The brothers came back to the bag. “Are you there?” they asked. No answer. But they saw that all was right, placed the bag on the pole, the pole on their shoulders, and moved on.
When they came to the waterfall, they approached as near as they could, and then gave him three swings in order to send him as far out as possible; and just as they let go, the terrified man sang out. They were startled at the voice; it sounded like a stranger’s voice. They returned home, and shortly after their brother arrived with his pockets full of money,–the proceeds of his drove of cattle and sheep.
So they concluded to share the spoil and remain together. But one night a band of robbers was seen advancing upon them, and they ran for their lives. Coolnajoo was the last to leave the house and the others told him to “bring the door to after him,”–meaning, of course, that he shall shut the door. He obeyed to the letter,–took the door off the hinges, and carefully brought it after him. They made for the woods, and took shelter in a tree,–Coolnajoo dragging the door up after him, and holding it carefully all the while. The robbers came up to the same tree, kindled a fire under it, cooked and ate their dinner, and then began counting and dividing their gold. While this process was going on, Coolnajoo got tired of holding the door, and dropped it down among them. It fell with a noise that terrified the robbers, who supposed that it had fallen from the sky; so they ran off as fast as their legs could carry them, and left everything behind,–gold, food, and dishes. Down scrambled our heroes, and gathered all up and ran; finally they came to a house, where they remained all night. They divided the money; but Coolnajoo claimed the largest share, as he declared that it was through his efforts that it had been obtained. The next night they called and stayed all night at another strange house. Coolnajoo became thirsty, and hunted around for a drink. Feeling carelessly about, he thrust his two hands into a pitcher, and could not withdraw them. He went out-of-doors, and looked around for something to strike the pitcher against, in order to break it. At length he saw what seemed in the darkness to be a white rock. He gave the pitcher a smart blow in order to free his hands; when, alas! he had struck a young woman in the head, and killed her with the blow. At the sight of what he had done, he was terribly frightened, and called up his brothers. He told them what had happened, and proposed immediate flight. They all departed; and his brothers, fearing that Coolnajoo would ultimately get them into difficulties from which they would be unable to extricate themselves, separated from him. By mutual consent the partnership was dissolved. They went each his own way.
Coolnajoo was bent on making money, and an opportunity occurred soon. He kept his eye on the robbers, and saw them going out to bury a dead child; he watched to see where they deposited the body, and also followed them unseen to their retreat. When night came, he took up the corpse they had buried, and went up to their house. The window was open, and he looked in; they were busy counting and dividing their ill-gotten booty. Piles of money covered the table, and he heard all the accounts of their expeditions. All at once he sent the dead baby flying in among them,–which so frightened them that they took to their heels and left all behind. He leaped in, gathered all the money, and left for home.
He now determined to settle, and to this end built a small house. One day a heavy rain-storm came on; and just at nightfall two weary priests, wet to the skin, called and requested a night’s lodging. This he refused, as he had no accommodations for strangers. They pleaded hard, and offered him a large reward; this he accepted, and kept them until morning, but managed to exact a still further contribution from them before their departure.


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