Tales of the North American Indians
The Deserted Children
THERE was a camp. All the children went off to play. They went to some distance. Then one man said, “Let us abandon the children. Lift the ends of your tent-poles and travois when you go, so that there will be no trail.” Then the people went off. After a time the oldest girl amongst the children sent the others back to the camp to get something to eat. The children found the camp gone, the fires out, and only ashes about. They cried, and wandered about at random. The oldest girl said, “Let us go toward the river.”
They found a trail leading across the river, and forded the river there. Then one of the girls found a tent-pole. As they went along, she cried, “My mother, here is your tent-pole.” “Bring my tent-pole here!” shouted an old woman loudly from out of the timber. The children went towards her.
They found that she was an old woman who lived alone. They entered her tent. At night they were tired. The old woman told them all to sleep with their heads toward the fire. Only one little girl who had a small brother pretended to sleep, but did not. The old woman watched if all were asleep. Then she put her foot in the fire. It became red hot. Then she pressed it down on the throat of one of the children, and burned through the child’s throat. Then she killed the next one and the next one.
The little girl jumped up, saying, “My grandmother, let me live with you and work for you. I will bring wood and water for you.” Then the old woman allowed her and her little brother to live. “Take these out,” she said.
Then the little girl, carrying her brother on her back, dragged out the bodies of the other children. Then the old woman sent her to get wood. The little girl brought back a load of cottonwood. When she brought it, the old woman said, “That is not the kind of wood I use. Throw it out. Bring another load.” The little girl went out and got willow-wood. She came back, and said, “My grandmother, I have a load of wood.” “Throw it in,” said the old woman. The little girl threw the wood into the tent. The old woman said, “That is not the kind of wood I use. Throw it outside. Now go get wood for me.” Then the little girl brought birch-wood, then cherry, then sagebrush; but the old woman always said, “That is not the kind of wood I use,” and sent her out again. The little girl went. She cried and cried. Then a bird came to her and told her, ” Bring her ghost-ropes for she is a ghost.” Then the little girl brought some of these plants, which grow on willows. The old woman said, “Throw in the wood which you have brought.” The little girl threw it in. Then the old woman was glad. “You are my good grand-daughter,” she said.
Then the old woman sent the little girl to get water. The little girl brought her river-water, then rain-water, then spring-water; but the old woman always told her, “That is not the kind of water I use. Spill it!” Then the bird told the little girl, “Bring her foul, stagnant water, which is muddy and full of worms. That is the only kind she drinks.” The little girl got the water, and when she brought it the old woman was glad.
Then the little boy said that he needed to go out doors. “Well, then, go out with your brother, but let half of your robe remain inside of the tent while you hold him.” Then the girl took her little brother out, leaving half of her robe inside the tent. When she was outside, she stuck an awl in the ground. She hung her robe on this, and, taking her little brother, fled. The old woman called, “Hurry!” Then the awl answered, “My grandmother, my little brother is not yet ready.” Again the old woman said, “Now hurry!” Then the awl answered again, “My little brother is not ready.” Then the old woman said, “Come in now; else I will go outside and kill you.” She started to go out, and stepped on the awl.
The little girl and her brother fled, and came to a large river An animal with two horns lay there. It said, “Louse me.” The little boy loused it. Its lice were frogs. “Catch four, and crack them with your teeth,” said the Water-monster. The boy had on a necklace of plum-seeds. Four times the girl cracked a seed. She made the monster think that her brother had cracked one of its lice. Then the Water-monster said, “Go between my horns, and do not open your eyes until we have crossed.” Then he went under the surface of the water. He came up on the other side. The children got off and went on.
The old woman was pursuing the children, saying, “I will kill you. You cannot escape me by going to the sky or by entering the ground.” She came to the river. The monster had returned, and was lying at the edge of the water. “Louse me,” it said. The old woman found a frog. “These dirty lice! I will not put them into my mouth!” she said, and threw it into the river. She found three more, and threw them away. Then she went on the Water-monster. He went under the surface of the water, remained there, drowned her, and ate her. The children went on.
At last they came to the camp of the people who had deserted them. They came to their parents’ tent. “My mother, here is your little son,” the girl said. “I did not know that I had a son,” their mother said. They went to their father, their uncle, and their grandfather. They all said, “I did not know I had a son,” “I did not know I had a nephew,” “I did not know I had a grandson.” Then a man said, “Let us tie them face to face, and hang them in a tree and leave them.”
Then they tied them together, hung them in a tree, put out all the fires, and left them. A small dog with sores all over his body, his mouth, and his eyes, pretended to be sick and unable to move, and lay on the ground. He kept a little fire between his legs, and had hidden a knife. The people left the dog lying. When they had all gone off, the dog went to the children, climbed the tree, cut the ropes, and freed them. The little boy cried and cried. He felt bad about what the people had done.
Then many buffalo came near them. “Look at the buffalo, my brother,” said the girl. The boy looked at the buffalo, and they fell dead. The girl wondered how they might cut them up. “Look at the meat, my younger brother,” she said. The boy looked at the dead buffalo, and the meat was all cut up. Then she told him to look at the meat, and when he looked at it, the meat was dried. Then they had much to eat, and the dog became well again. The girl sat down on the pile of buffalo-skins, and they were all dressed. She folded them together, sat on them, and there was a tent. Then she went out with the dog and looked for sticks. She brought dead branches, broken tent-poles, and rotten wood. “Look at the tent-poles,” she said to her brother. When he looked, there were large straight tent-poles, smooth and good. Then the girl tied three together at the top, and stood them up, and told her brother to look at the tent. He looked, and a large fine tent stood there. Then she told him to go inside and look about him. He went in and looked. Then the tent was filled with property, and there were beds for them, and a bed also for the dog. The dog was an old man. Then the girl said, “Look at the antelopes running, my brother.” The boy looked, and the antelopes fell dead. He looked at them again, and the meat was cut up and the skins taken off.
Then the girl made fine dresses of the skins for her brother and herself and the dog. Then she called as if she were calling for dogs, and four bears came loping to her. “You watch that pile of meat, and you this one,” she said to each one of the bears. The bears went to the meat and watched it. Then the boy looked at the woods and there was a corral full of fine painted horses. Then the children lived at this place, the same place where they had been tied and abandoned. They had very much food and much property.
Then a man came and saw their tent and the abundance they had, and went back and told the people. Then the people were told, “Break camp and move to the children for we are without food.” Then they broke camp and traveled, and came to the children. The women went to take meat, but the bears drove them away. The girl and her brother would not come out of the tent. Not even the dog would come out. Then the girl said, “I will go out and bring a wife for you, my brother, and for the dog, and a husband for myself.” Then she went out, and went to the camp and selected two pretty girls and one good-looking young man, and told them to come with her. She took them into the tent, and the girls sat down by the boy and the old man, and the man by her. Then they gave them fine clothing, and married them. Then the sister told her brother, “Go outside and look at the camp.” The boy went out and looked at the people, and they all fell dead.