Stories & Poems
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Written by Laurel Santiago
While on a quiet winter's journey, I heard the cry of Wolf.
I turned around in my surprise, to see her in my sights.
I said to her, "How do you do?"
She said, "I do just fine."
Then turned her head unto the moon, and so resumed her cry.
I said to her, "Why do you cry?"
She said, "I cry for you dear one."
I fell to my knees, raised my hands to the sky,
And proceeded to ask her why.
"For all of the tears you've never let fall, for all of your sorrow and
For all of your loves and your hates, and your fears, for all of your unsaid
All at once, she turned to me.............then turned once more to the moon.
I reached out to touch her and then she was gone.
She had left me way too soon.
I lifted my pack, and searched for the trail, covered with newfallen snow.
I thanked Mother Earth for this new lesson learned,
Then began to find my way home.
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Written by Lisa Lafferty
Driving around at 3:00 AM
I can't sleep
Demons keep me awake, ghosts surround me, haunt me
So I drive
Drive away from the demons
Drive away from the ghosts of my past, present, and future
Sometimes, I want to drive forever
But there is not enough of this world to do so
And I know, I know, I know
The demons are right behind me
The ghosts are there beside me
Still, at 3:00 AM I drive
With no destination
Maybe there is a destination and I just haven't found it
Still, I drive
I see a man standing on a street corner
No, I see a man leaning against a light pole on a street corner
The dim illumination of the street light reveals to me he is Indian
But that is not what is important
What I really notice, what I see, is myself
Not because he is Indian
I can see his demons, his ghosts that chase him
I drive around the block, once, twice, three times
He is still standing there
I pull up beside him and offer him a ride
My kindred spirit, we are both haunted and chased
He steps up to the car and studies my face, my eyes, my blue eyes
He sees the demons that haunt me
Without any words he climbs into the passenger seat
The smell of alcohol seeping from his skin tells me he chases away his
demons with a bottle
When the bottle is empty the demons are still there
I know, I've tried that form of escape too
"Where do you want to go?' I ask him
"To the rez," he says out loud
"Take me away, to a place where the demons that chase me can't find
he says without words
Or was that me saying those words without speaking
I look at him closely and realize that it was both of us saying those
Sometimes, more is spoken in silence
I wanted to rescue him from his demons
No, I wanted him to rescue me
I drive him out to the rez
He reaches across and places his hand on my hand
I curl my fingers around his hand
And I hold on, hold on, hold on
And he holds on, holds on, holds on
Our demons, our ghosts surround us
But our unity pushes them away
We have created a barrier with a simple gesture
A powerful gesture
He asks me if I am Lummi
"No," I say, "I am not Lummi."
Our hands still touch, we still hold on
"No," I say, "I am a blue-eyed Indian."
"Mixed blood?" he asks
"Mixed up." I answer
He tightens his grip around my hand.
"Blue-eyes," he says, "yet their is pain and sadness in them that
I look into his brown eyes and see this pain and sadness, I recognize it
Pain and sadness, pain and sadness
Is this the meaning of "being" Indian?
No, it's just a side-effect
I drop him off at a friend's house on the rez
Our hands separate
Alone again, with our demons that haunt us both
I never see him again
Did he finally escape his demons?
Is he still being chased?
Is he still running?
I think of him and want to reach out and hold on to his hand
I want him to hold mine
Hold on, hold on, hold on
So I reach out through time and distance and I hold on
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Written by Claire (August 31, 2000)
The night sky with stars
Surf along the rocky coast
Wind in the pine boughs
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Written by Claire
A cup of water
with a friend is better than
A feast alone
(This poem is in haiku style, that is five syllables first
line, seven syllables second line and five syllables third line. But the theme is native
american do you agree?)
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Written by Neshwa Pawithe ( Two Doves ) Upper Kispoko Sept, Shawnee
One is, one is all, one is human, one is the call.
One is, one is creation, one is nature, one is the vibration.
One is, one is higher, one is within, one is the fire.
One is, one is the guide, one is born, one has not died.
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A poem by myladyssong
- i sit here and listen to the planes fly by
- as the trucks go past the house
- they are spraying insecticides
- to kill the mosquitos endangering lives
- i hear of the fires consuming the forests
- the earthquakes, the floods
- the earth is angry no one has listened
- the people have warned us
- of the impending dangers
- our mother wants us to listen
- and she roars
- for her children aren't respecting her
- and she is sick very sick
- she needs her children to love her again
- to appreciate her again
- so she can nurture us and love us as she
- has in the past
- she needs for us to know her and love her
- or she will soon just let go
- i cry for her for alone i am not enough
- i reach out for my brothers and sisters
- who are not listening
- taking from the earth giving nothing back
- taking for granted the homes / the water / the air
- the food
- but our mother wont be taken for granted
- she already has been abused much more
- then any could ever take
- she has waited for her children to learn
- and to embrace her again
- but we have not
- so she is so sickly
- she is withering away
- and her children go on
- as if they think life is eternal
- and will fix itself
- as if the gifts they have been bestowed upon
- are what they think they deserve
- but it has been taken for granted
- our mother has been taken for granted
- is that how you treat your biological mother
- if you did do you think she would withstand the
- pain and abuse
- or would she wither and die
- getting sick in her heart and body
- well that is what has happened with mother earth
- she has been used and abused without appreciation
- and now she is sick so very sick
- let us try to get together and listen to those
- who know what needs to be done
- for this earth and the people to become
- whole and one
- we need to learn now before its to late
- before we kill mother earth
- and seal our fate
- the people the american indians have the answers
- they need to know we are willing to listen now
- and beg their forgiveness so they may teach us
- how to heal our mother
- and become one
- it is going to take a very long time
- but we need to make the steps now
- mother earth is waiting
- listen to her cries
- she wants her children to listen
- and open up their eyes
Contemporary Life As Seen By A Crow
Tom wiped the sweat from his face and placed his hat back on his head. Stuffing his
frayed and grey handerchief into his pocket, he used his spade to poke at a clod of dirt
in the the 2 foot by 4 foot strip of earth he had just broken. Satisifed with the
results, he laid down the shovel.
"Hey Chief! What do you think you're doing? This is a public park. You can't bury
stuff here!" Tom turned and waited for his good eye to focus on the figure
him. Slowly he made out the shape of a policeman of some sort " Aim ahn, officer.
I'm not burying anything. I'm planting tobacco."
"Tobacco? What for? You sure that ain't marijuana? Why don't you buy cigarettes
at the store like eveybody else? Don't you know this is a public park?" The
wait for answers. "You can't dig here. It's against the law."
Tom waited until the man had finished, "It's the old tobacco. The one the Creator
It's rare now days. So much of the earth has changed." Tom paused as if he were
something. Then continued "Some day the people will need it again. They
will need it to
pray. And to find peace. But there won't be any. So I plant a little
here. A little there.
Wherever I see a good spot. It won't grow just anywhere. Maybe a few plants
will make it."
"It's illegal to dig in a public park." the officer said as he recorded Tom's
address in his citation book. Handing Tom the ticket, he continued "You have to
in your fine by Monday the 20th. If you don't a warrant will be issued for your
You understand old man? O.K. Get your stuff and go on home."
Tom folded the citation carefully and placed it in his pocket as he watched the officer
walk back towards the path. From another pocket he withdrew the old medicine bottle
held the tobacco seed he collected the year before. Shaking a few dozen into his
he whispered a prayer and scattered them over the broken ground.
As he walked back to the truck Tom's thoughts were already on his next stop.
bank near the bypass on the south side of town would be good place. With a little
I can sow some seed there and still be home before it's too dark to see. And
go over by...."
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Long ago there was only one man and one woman on the earth. They were placed here to
take care of all the animals and plants. Everything was perfect. They loved each other
very much. They were called FirstMan and FirstWoman.
One day, and no one knows exactly why, they began to argue. The arguments became louder
and more intense. Each one said very hurtful things to the other. Finally FirstWoman left
the dwelling. She insisted she did not ever want to see FirstMan again, and would never
return to their dwelling. FirstMan agreed. He too did not want to remain where there was
so much animosity.
As night fell, FirstMan realized that he didnt want to be separated from
FirstWoman. He didnt feel right to be alone. FirstMan began to desperately miss
FirstWoman. At every sound outside the silent dwelling, he rushed to the door hoping to
see she had returned. But it was never her.
At first light he set out in the direction she had gone hoping to catch up with her.
After one full day, he finally saw her in the distance. She also saw him, and began to
pace him, so he could get no closer. He sped up, and so did she. This continued for two
days. Desperate, FirstMan asked the Creator to help him. "Are you sure you want this
woman?" asked the Creator. "Oh, yes, for this woman walks in my very soul",
Seeing FirstMans sincerity, the Creator placed flowers in the path of FirstWoman
to slow her down. The flowers were beautiful, but FirstWoman could see none of them
through her tears. She kept pacing FirstMan so he could not catch up with her. The Creator
set other, more beautiful flowers in her path
wild flowers of incredible beauty that
should have gotten her attention. These could not attract her because of her tears. The
Creator put bushes in her path with no effect, and wonderful shrubs. FirstWoman kept
pacing FirstMan. FirstMan began to lose ground with FirstWoman and he felt disheartened.
Finally the Creator put out berry bushes in front of FirstWoman. These included service
berries, blackberries, cherries, saskatoon berries, gooseberries. FirstWoman stopped
periodically to taste the fruit, but moved on and now began outpacing FirstMan. He began
to lose sight of her completely.
Finally the Creator set out the Strawberry plant to slow down FirstWoman. The Creator
set it out in all its evolution - white, green and red. She eventually stopped to
taste the sweet red berry. However, wherever FirstWoman stepped on the earth, the Creator
set a strawberry plant. In this manner, FirstMan was able to track her. As the
strawberries became more lush and sweet, FirstWoman stayed longer to taste the fruit. This
is how FirstMan was eventually able to catch up with her.
They shared this wonderful fruit while soothing the ugly words they had said to each
other. The words became forgotten and they traveled home together in the love they
To this day some Cherokee homes keep strawberries in some form. Maybe just in the form
of jams or jellies, or in the form of plants in the gardens. In some older homes - log
homes - they are planted between the logs in keeping with the tradition. But they remind
us in the end to slow down our arguments. Most are never important enough for us to leave
our homes nor our chosen FirstMates.
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Kiowa/Comanche as told by TuwikaUah
Long ago before the Comanche had the horse or the gun, winter was very hard on the
people. Deep snows hid the tracks of the animals and made it hard for the hunters to
travel. It was especially hard when the snows came early.
So it was the winter that the snows came before the leaves had fallen from the trees.
The people did not yet have sufficient stores laid in, and the elders would only
shake their heads when asked what was to be done. Soon it was apparent that many
would not survive to see the spring.
Every day the hunters would set out in the darkness of the early morning. And
late each evening they would return with empty hands; half-frozen and exhausted from
pushing their way through the ever deepening snow. Yatenah`te was always the first
hunter to leave and the last to return. Being the youngest and strongest of the
hunters, he pushed himself to go farther and to stay out longer than anyone else.
At first Yahtenah`te hunted the plains surrounding the camp. Then he journeyed to
the foothills. And finally entered the Witchita Mountains in his searh for game to
feed his people. And so it was that he became lost.
Yahtenah`te tried to retrace his steps but the wind and snow had covered his tracks.
He tried traveling North, South, East and West in hopes of finding a landmark that
would lead him back to the village. But no matter which way he went, he remained
lost. Days turned to weeks and weeks into seasons. As the years passed the
memory of his village never left him, and he searched first one valley and then another in
hope of finding the way back.
One day Yahtenah`te sat by a stream looking at his reflection. His hair had now
grown thin and white and his weathered face was wrinkled with age. As the thought on
his life alone, he noticed to his amazement that the lines and creases on his face matched
the hills and valleys of the mountain. He searched the furrows around his eyes and
saw the summer range of the mule deer. In the creases of his chin he saw the steep
bluffs of the central range, where he had lured many bison to their death for food and
hides. Then he noticed a line he did not recognize from the terrain. Wondering if
this was a place he had never seen before, he collected his weapons and set out.
Early the next morning he reached the mouth of a broad, shallow ravine that he had
never seen before. As he followed it, he could hear distant voices. And on the
wind he was sure he could smell the smoke of a cook fire. Turning a bend in the
ravine he saw his village in the distance. Painted teepees. Children running
and laughing. Men tending and repairing their weapons. Women preparing food.
He knew in his heart that this was his village.
Yahtenah`te paused. He thought of his years alone. Of his journeys in the
mountains. Of how the Fingerprints of the Creator are upon us all. And how we
are each given all the gifts we need in this life. Raising his arms to the sky, he
gave thanks to the Creator. And returned Home.
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Author unknown. As retold by LdyHorse.
- Legend tells of a renagade,
- of a horse no one could tame.
- Her sire was the devil himself,
- Wild Thing was her name.
- No one knew where she came from,
- Quarterhorse blood, they say,
- When the leaves dance across the meadow,
- on a cold October's day.
- People would gather from miles around,
- to watch her dance upon the wind.
- They would only get a glimpse of her,
- then she would be gone again.
- Some had tried to capture her,
- take her for a ride.
- The town folks called her widow maker,
- for all the cowboys who had tried.
- There was this Indian woman,
- had a way with horses, I know,
- She headed into the hills one day
- to give ol'Wild Thing a go.
- When she came upon a clearing,
- above a ridge called "Heaven's Gate,"
- She thought to herself, "How appropriate,"
- and she began to wait.
- She sat there for what seemed a lifetime,
- wondering what this horse might do,
- When all at once she heard thunder,
- but the sky was the bluest of blue.
- She held her breath and waited.
- So still, she stayed.
- The thunder was coming closer now,
- She closed her eyes and prayed.
- Visions of the wild thing
- danced inside her head.
- This fire breathing renegade,
- she was as good as dead.
- When all had gone quiet, she opened her eyes,
- What she saw made her want to scream,
- for there before here stood this beautiful horse...
- A vision...A legend...A dream.
- She didn't try to capture here
- as so many others had tried.
- Instead, she stood and waited,
- and when the mare came, the woman cried.
- For in this horse's eyes,
- she saw a reflection of her own fears.
- She looked into the horse's eye,
- and understood what brought her here.
- The Great Spirit had brought the two together,
- the only way he could.
- This horse was not a renegade,
- simply misunderstood.
- Now legend tells of a beautiful horse,
- whose soul is the bright of light,
- and of the Indian woman who rides her,
- they roam the hills at night.
- People gather form miles around,
- to watch them dance upon the wind.
- They only get a glimpse of them.
- And then they've gone again.
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IKTOMI is a spider fairy. He wears brown deerskin legginswith long
soft fringes on either side, and tiny beaded moccasins on his feet. His long black hair is
parted in the middle and wrapped with red, red bands. Each round braid hangs over a small
brown ear and falls forward over his shoulders.
He even paints his funny face with red and yellow, and draws big black rings around his
eyes. He wears a deerskin jacket, with bright colored beads sewed tightly on it. Iktomi
dresses like a real Dakota brave. In truth, his paint and deerskins are the best part of
him--if ever dress is part of man or fairy.
Iktomi is a wily fellow. His hands are always kept in mischief. He prefers to spread a
snare rather than to earn the smallest thing with honest hunting. Why! he laughs outright
with wide open mouth when some simple folk are caught in a trap, sure and fast.
He never dreams another lives so bright as he. Often his own conceit leads him hard
against the common sense of simpler people.
Poor Iktomi cannot help being a little imp. And so long as he is a naughty fairy, he
cannot find a single friend. No one helps him when he is in trouble. No one really loves
him. Those who come to admire his handsome beaded jacket and long fringed leggins soon go
away sick and tired of his vain, vain words and heartless laughter.
Thus Iktomi lives alone in a cone-shaped wigwam upon the plain. One day he sat hungry
within his teepee. Suddenly he rushed out, dragging after him his blanket. Quickly
spreading it on the ground, he tore up dry tall grass with both his hands and tossed it
fast into the blanket.
Tying all the four corners together in a knot, he threw the light bundle of grass over
Snatching up a slender willow stick with his free left hand, he started off with a hop
and a leap. From side to side bounced the bundle on his back, as he ran light-footed over
the uneven ground. Soon he came to the edge of the great level land. On the hilltop he
paused for breath. With wicked smacks of his dry parched lips, as if tasting some tender
meat, he looked straight into space toward the marshy river bottom. With a thin palm
shading his eyes from the western sun, he peered far away into the lowlands, munching his
own cheeks all the while. "Ah-ha!" grunted he, satisfied with what he saw.
A group of wild ducks were dancing and feasting in the marshes. With wings outspread,
tip to tip, they moved up and down in a large circle. Within the ring, around a small
drum, sat the chosen singers, nodding their heads and blinking their eyes.
They sang in unison a merry dance-song, and beat a lively tattoo on the drum.
Following a winding footpath near by, came a bent figure of a Dakota brave. He bore on
his back a very large bundle. With a willow cane he propped himself up as he staggered
along beneath his burden.
"Ho! who is there?" called out a curious old duck, still bobbing up and down
in the circular dance.
Hereupon the drummers stretched their necks till they strangled their song for a look at
the stranger passing by. "Ho, Iktomi! Old fellow, pray tell us what you carry in your
blanket. Do not hurry off! Stop! halt!" urged one of the singers.
"Stop! stay! Show us what is in your blanket!" cried out other voices.
"My friends, I must not spoil your dance. Oh, you would not care to see if you only
knew what is in my blanket. Sing on! dance on! I must not show you what I carry on my
back," answered Iktomi, nudging his own sides with his elbows. This reply broke up
the ring entirely. Now all the ducks crowded about Iktomi.
"We must see what you carry! We must know what is in your blanket!" they
shouted in both his ears. Some even brushed their wings against the mysterious bundle.
Nudging himself again, wily
Iktomi said, "My friends, 'tis only a pack of songs I carry in my blanket."
"Oh, then let us hear your songs!" cried the curious ducks.
At length Iktomi consented to sing his songs. With delight all the ducks flapped their
wings and cried together, "Hoye! hoye!" Iktomi, with great care, laid down his
bundle on the ground. "I will build first a round straw house, for I never sing my
songs in the open air," said he.
Quickly he bent green willow sticks, planting both ends of each pole into the earth.
These he covered thick with reeds and grasses. Soon the straw hut was ready. One by one
the fat ducks waddled in through a small opening, which was the only entrance way. Beside
the door Iktomi stood smiling, as the ducks, eyeing his bundle of songs, strutted into the
In a strange low voice Iktomi began his queer old tunes. All the ducks sat round-eyed in
a circle about the mysterious singer. It was dim in that straw hut, for Iktomi had not
forgot to cover up the small entrance way. All of a sudden his song burst into full voice.
As the startled ducks sat uneasily on the ground, Iktomi changed his tune into a minor
strain. These were the words he sang:
"Istokmus wacipo, tuwayatunwanpi kinhan ista nisasapi kta," which is,
"With eyes closed you must dance. He who dares to open his eyes, forever red eyes
Up rose the circle of seated ducks and holding their wings close against their sides
began to dance to the rhythm of Iktomi's song and drum.
With eyes closed they did dance! Iktomi ceased to beat his drum. He began to sing louder
and faster. He seemed to be moving about in the center of the ring. No duck dared blink a
wink. Each one shut his eyes very tight and danced even harder. Up and down! Shifting to
the right of them they hopped round and round in that blind dance. It was a difficult
dance for the curious folk.
At length one of the dancers could close his eyes no longer! It was a Skiska who peeped
the least tiny blink at Iktomi within the center of the circle. "Oh! oh!"
squawked he in awful terror! "Run! fly! Iktomi is twisting your heads and breaking
your necks! Run out and fly! fly!" he cried. Hereupon the ducks opened their eyes.
There beside Iktomi's bundle of songs lay half of their crowd--flat on their backs.
Out they flew through the opening Skiska had made as he rushedforth with his alarm.
But as they soared high into the blue sky they cried to one another: "Oh! your eyes
are red-red!" "And yours are red-red!" For the warning words of the magic
minor strain had proven true. "Ah-ha!" laughed Iktomi, untying the four corners
of his blanket, "I shall sit no more hungry within my dwelling." Homeward he
trudged along with nice fat ducks in his blanket. He left the little straw hut for the
rains and winds to pull down.
Having reached his own teepee on the high level lands, Iktomi kindled a large fire out
of doors. He planted sharp-pointed sticks around the leaping flames. On each stake he
fastened a duck to roast. A few he buried under the ashes to bake. Disappearing within his
teepee, he came out again with some huge seashells. These were his dishes. Placing one
under each roasting duck, he muttered, "The sweet fat oozing out will taste well with
the hard-cooked breasts."
Heaping more willows upon the fire, Iktomi sat down on the ground with crossed shins. A
long chin between his knees pointed toward the red flames, while his eyes were on the
Just above his ankles he clasped and unclasped his long bony fingers. Now and then he
sniffed impatiently the savory odor. The brisk wind which stirred the fire also played
squeaky old tree beside Iktomi's wigwam.
From side to side the tree was swaying and crying in an old man's voice, "Help!
I'll break! I'll fall!" Iktomi shrugged his great shoulders, but did not once take
his eyes from the ducks. The dripping of amber oil into pearly dishes, drop by drop,
pleased his hungry eyes. Still the old tree man called for help. "He! What sound is
it that makes my ear ache!" exclaimed Iktomi, holding a hand on his ear.
He rose and looked around. The squeaking came from the tree. Then he began climbing the
tree to find the disagreeable sound. He placed his foot right on a cracked limb without
seeing it. Just then a whiff of wind came rushing by and pressed together the broken
edges. There in a strong wooden hand Iktomi's foot was caught.
"Oh! my foot is crushed!" he howled like a coward. In vain he pulled and
puffed to free himself.
While sitting a prisoner on the tree he spied, through his tears, a pack of gray wolves
roaming over the level lands. Waving his hands toward them, he called in his loudest
voice, "He! Gray wolves! Don't you come here! I'm caught fast in the tree so that my
duck feast is getting cold. Don't you come to eat up my meal."
The leader of the pack upon hearing Iktomi's words turned to his comrades and said:
"Ah! hear the foolish fellow! He says he has a duck feast to be eaten! Let us hurry
there for our share!" Away bounded the wolves toward Iktomi's lodge.
From the tree Iktomi watched the hungry wolves eat up his nicely browned fat ducks. His
foot pained him more and more. He heard them crack the small round bones with their strong
long teeth and eat out the oily marrow. Now severe pains shot up from his foot through his
whole body. "Hin-hin-hin!" sobbed Iktomi. Real tears washed brown streaks across
his red-painted cheeks. Smacking their lips, the wolves began to leave the place, when
Iktomi cried out like a pouting child, "At least you have left my baking under the
"Ho! Po!" shouted the mischievous wolves; "he says more ducks are to be
found under the ashes! Come! Let us have our fill this once!"
Running back to the dead fire, they pawed out the ducks with such rude haste that a
cloud of ashes rose like gray smoke over them.
"Hin-hin-hin!" moaned Iktomi, when the wolves had scampered off. All too late,
the sturdy breeze returned, and, passing by, pulled apart the broken edges of the tree.
Iktomi was released. But alas! he had no duck feast.
- as told by ZITKALA-SA
Back To Top
as retold by ZITKALA-SA
ALONE within his teepee sat Iktomi. The sun was but a
handsbreadth from the western edge of land.
"Those, bad, bad gray wolves! They ate up all my nice fat ducks!" muttered
he, rocking his body to and fro.
He was cuddling the evil memory he bore those hungry wolves. At last he ceased to sway
his body backward and forward, but sat still and stiff as a stone image.
"Oh! I'll go to Inyan, the great-grandfather, and pray for food!" he
At once he hurried forth from his teepee and, with his blanket over one shoulder, drew
nigh to a huge rock on a hillside.
With half-crouching, half-running strides, he fell upon Inyan with outspread hands.
"Grandfather! pity me. I am hungry. I am starving. Give me food.
Great-grandfather, give me meat to eat!" he cried. All the while he stroked and
caressed the face of the great stone god.
The all-powerful Great Spirit, who makes the trees and grass, can hear the voice of
those who pray in many varied ways. The hearing of Inyan, the large hard stone, was the
one most sought after. He was the great-grandfather, for he had sat upon the hillside
many, many seasons. He had seen the prairie put on a snow-white blanket and then change it
for a bright green robe more than a thousand times.
Still unaffected by the myriad moons he rested on the everlasting hill, listening to
the prayers of Indian warriors.
Before the finding of the magic arrow he had sat there.
Now, as Iktomi prayed and wept before the great-grandfather, the sky in the west was
red like a glowing face. The sunset poured a soft mellow light upon the huge gray stone
and the solitary figure beside it. It was the smile of the Great Spirit upon the
grandfather and the wayward child.
The prayer was heard. Iktomi knew it. "Now, grandfather, accept my offering; 'tis
all I have," said Iktomi as he spread
his half-worn blanket upon Inyan's cold shoulders. Then Iktomi, happy with the smile of
the sunset sky, followed a footpath leading toward a thicketed ravine. He had not gone
many paces into the shrubbery when before him lay a freshly wounded deer!
"This is the answer from the red western sky!" cried Iktomi with hands
Slipping a long thin blade from out his belt, he cut large chunks of choice meat.
Sharpening some willow sticks, he planted them around a wood-pile he had ready to kindle.
On these stakes he meant to roast the venison.
While he was rubbing briskly two long sticks to start a fire, the sun in the west fell
out of the sky below the edge of land. Twilight was over all. Iktomi felt the cold night
air upon his bare neck and shoulders. "Ough!" he shivered as he wiped his knife
on the grass. Tucking it in a beaded case hanging from his belt, Iktomi stood erect,
looking about. He shivered again. "Ough! Ah! I am cold. I wish I had my
blanket!" whispered he, hovering over the pile of dry sticks and the sharp stakes
round about it. Suddenly he paused and dropped his hands at his sides.
"The old great-grandfather does not feel the cold as I do. He does not need my old
blanket as I do. I wish I had not given it to him. Oh! I think I'll run up there and take
it back!" said he, pointing his long chin toward the large gray stone.
Iktomi, in the warm sunshine, had no need of his blanket, and it had been very easy to
part with a thing which he could not miss. But the chilly night wind quite froze his
Thus running up the hillside, his teeth chattering all the way, he drew near to Inyan,
the sacred symbol. Seizing one corner of the half-worn blanket, Iktomi pulled it off with
"Give my blanket back, old grandfather! You do not need it. I do!" This was
very wrong, yet Iktomi did it, for his wit was not wisdom. Drawing the blanket tight over
his shoulders, he descended the hill with hurrying feet.
He was soon upon the edge of the ravine. A young moon, like a bright bent bow, climbed
up from the southwest horizon a little way into the sky.
In this pale light Iktomi stood motionless as a ghost amid the thicket. His woodpile
was not yet kindled. His pointed stakes were still bare as he had left them. But where was
the deerthe venison he had felt warm in his hands a moment ago? It was gone. Only
the dry rib bones lay on the ground like giant fingers from an
open grave. Iktomi was troubled. At length, stooping over the white dried bones, he
took hold of one and shook it. The bones, loose in their sockets, rattled together at his
touch. Iktomi let go his hold. He sprang back amazed. And though he wore a blanket his
teeth chattered more than ever. Then his blunted sense will surprise you, little reader;
for instead of being grieved that he had taken back his blanket, he cried aloud,
"Hin-hin-hin! If only I had eaten the venison before going for my blanket!"
Those tears no longer moved the hand of the Generous Giver. They were selfish tears.
The Great Spirit does not heed them ever.
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as told by ZITKALA-SA
BESIDE a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat
Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smouldering ashes told of a recent open fire. With
ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.
Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no
regular meal times. Often when he was hungry he went without food.
Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of
fish. Not knowing when the next meal would be, he meant to eat enough now to last some
"How, how, my friend!" said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started. He
almost choked with his soup. He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his
long horn spoon in mid-air.
"How, my friend!" said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi
turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.
"Oh, it is my friend who startled me. I wondered if among the wild rice some
spirit voice was talking. How, how, my friend!" said Iktomi. The muskrat stood
smiling. On his lips hung a ready "Yes, my friend," when Iktomi would ask,
"My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?"
That was the custom of the plains people. Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old
dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon. The muskrat
began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under water.
After many heart throbs Iktomi stopped drumming with his horn ladle, and looking upward
into the muskrat's face, he said:
"My friend, let us run a race to see who shall win this pot of fish. If I win, I
shall not need to share it with you. If you win, you shall have half of it."
Springing to his feet, Iktomi began at once to tighten the belt about his waist.
"My friend Ikto, I cannot run a race with you! I am not a swift runner, and you
are nimble as a deer. We shall not run any race together," answered the hungry
For a moment Iktomi stood with a hand on his long protruding chin. His eyes were fixed
upon something in the air. The muskrat looked out of the corners of his eyes without
moving his head. He watched the wily Iktomi concocting a plot.
"Yes, yes," said Iktomi, suddenly turning his gaze upon the unwelcome
"I shall carry a large stone on my back. That will slacken my usual speed; and the
race will be a fair one."
Saying this he laid a firm hand upon the muskrat's shoulder and started off along the
edge of the lake. When they reached the opposite side Iktomi pried about in search of a
He found one half-buried in the shallow water. Pulling it out upon dry land, he wrapped
it in his blanket.
"Now, my friend, you shall run on the left side of the lake, I on the other. The
race is for the boiled fish in yonder kettle!" said Iktomi.
The muskrat helped to lift the heavy stone upon Iktomi's back. Then they parted. Each
took a narrow path through the tall reeds fringing the shore. Iktomi found his load a
heavy one. Perspiration hung like beads on his brow. His chest heaved hard and fast.
He looked across the lake to see how far the muskrat had gone, but nowhere did he see
any sign of him. "Well, he is running low under the wild rice!" said he. Yet as
he scanned the tall grasses on the lake shore, he saw not one stir as if to make way for
the runner. "Ah, has he gone so fast ahead that the disturbed grasses in his trail
have quieted again?" exclaimed Iktomi. With that thought he quickly dropped the heavy
stone. "No more of this!" said he, patting his chest with both hands.
Off with a springing bound, he ran swiftly toward the goal. Tufts of reeds and grass
fell flat under his feet. Hardly had they raised their heads when Iktomi was many paces
Soon he reached the heap of cold ashes. Iktomi halted stiff as if he had struck an
invisible cliff. His black eyes showed a ring of white about them as he stared at the
empty ground. There was no pot of boiled fish! There was no water-man in sight! "Oh,
if only I had shared my food like a real Dakota, I would not have lost it all! Why did I
not know the muskrat would run through the water? He swims faster than I could ever run!
That is what he has done. He has laughed at me for carrying a weight on my back while he
shot hither like an arrow!"
Crying thus to himself, Iktomi stepped to the water's brink. He stooped forward with a
hand on each bent knee and peeped far into the deep water.
"There!" he exclaimed, "I see you, my friend, sitting with your ankles
wound around my little pot of fish! My friend, I am hungry. Give me a bone!"
"Ha! ha! ha!" laughed the water-man, the muskrat. The sound did not rise up
out of the lake, for it came down from overhead. With his hands still on his knees, Iktomi
turned his face upward into the great willow tree. Opening wide his mouth he begged,
"My friend, my friend, give me a bone to gnaw!"
"Ha! ha!" laughed the muskrat, and leaning over the limb he sat upon, he let
fall a small sharp bone which dropped right into Iktomi's throat. Iktomi almost choked to
death before he could get it out. In the tree the muskrat sat laughing loud. "Next
time, say to a visiting friend, 'Be seated beside me, my friend. Let me share with you my
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as told by ZITKALA-SA
AFAR off upon a large level land, a summer sun was shining
bright. Here and there over the rolling green were tall bunches of coarse gray weeds.
Iktomi in his fringed buckskins walked alone across the prairie with a black bare head
glossy in the sunlight. He walked through the grass without following any well-worn
From one large bunch of coarse weeds to another he wound his way about the great plain.
He lifted his foot lightly and placed it gently forward like a wildcat prowling
noiselessly through the thick grass. He stopped a few steps away from a very large bunch
of wild sage. From shoulder to shoulder he tilted his head. Still farther he bent from
side to side, first low over one hip and then over the other. Far forward he stooped,
stretching his long thin neck like a duck, to see what lay under a fur coat beyond the
bunch of coarse grass.
A sleek gray-faced prairie wolf! his pointed black nose tucked in between his four feet
drawn snugly together; his handsome bushy tail wound over his nose and feet; a coyote fast
asleep in the shadow of a bunch of grass!--this is what Iktomi spied. Carefully he raised
one foot and cautiously reached out with his toes. Gently, gently he lifted the foot
behind and placed it before the other. Thus he came nearer and nearer to the round fur
ball lying motionless under the sage grass.
Now Iktomi stood beside it, looking at the closed eyelids that did not quiver the least
bit. Pressing his lips into straight lines and nodding his head slowly, he bent over the
wolf. He held his ear close to the coyote's nose, but not a breath of air stirred from it.
"Dead!" said he at last. "Dead, but not long since he ran over these
plains! See! there in his paw is caught a fresh
feather. He is nice fat meat!" Taking hold of the paw with the bird feather fast
on it, he exclaimed, "Why, he is still warm! I'll carry him to my dwelling and have a
roast for my evening meal. Ah-ha!" he laughed, as he seized the coyote by its two
fore paws and its two hind feet and swung him over head across his shoulders. The wolf was
large and the teepee was far across the prairie. Iktomi trudged along with his burden,
smacking his hungry lips together. He blinked his eyes hard to keep out the salty
perspiration streaming down his face.
All the while the coyote on his back lay gazing into the sky with wide open eyes. His
long white teeth fairly gleamed as he smiled and smiled.
"To ride on one's own feet is tiresome, but to be carried like a warrior from a
brave fight is great fun!" said the coyote in his heart. He had never been borne on
any one's back before and the new experience delighted him. He lay there lazily on
Iktomi's shoulders, now and then blinking blue winks. Did you never see a birdie blink a
blue wink? This is how it first became a saying among the plains people. When a bird
stands aloof watching your strange ways, a thin bluish white tissue slips quickly over his
eyes and as quickly off again; so quick that you think it was only a mysterious blue wink.
Sometimes when children grow drowsy they blink blue winks, while others who are too proud
to look with friendly eyes upon people blink in this cold bird-manner.
The coyote was affected by both sleepiness and pride. His winks were almost as blue as
the sky. In the midst of his new pleasure the swaying motion ceased. Iktomi had reached
his dwelling place. The coyote felt drowsy no longer, for in the next instant he was
slipping out of Iktomi's hands. He was falling, falling through space, and then he struck
the ground with such a bump he did not wish to breathe for a while. He wondered what
Iktomi would do, thus he lay still where he fell. Humming a dance-song, one from his
bundle of mystery songs, Iktomi hopped and darted about at an imaginary dance and feast.
He gathered dry willow sticks and broke them in two against his knee. He built a
large fire out of doors. The flames leaped up high in red and yellow streaks. Now
Iktomi returned to the coyote who had been looking on through his eyelashes.
Taking him again by his paws and hind feet, he swung him to and fro. Then as the wolf
swung toward the red flames, Iktomi let him go. Once again the coyote fell through space.
Hot air smote his nostrils. He saw red dancing fire, and now he struck a bed of cracking
embers. With a quick turn he leaped out of the flames. From his heels were scattered a
shower of red coals upon Iktomi's bare arms and shoulders. Dumbfounded, Iktomi thought he
saw a spirit walk out of his fire. His jaws fell apart. He thrust a palm to his face, hard
over his mouth! He could scarce keep from shrieking.
Rolling over and over on the grass and rubbing the sides of his head against the
ground, the coyote soon put out the fire on his fur. Iktomi's eyes were almost ready to
jump out of his head as he stood cooling a burn on his brown arm with his breath.
Sitting on his haunches, on the opposite side of the fire from where Iktomi stood, the
coyote began to laugh at him.
"Another day, my friend, do not take too much for granted. Make sure the enemy is
stone dead before you make a fire!"
Then off he ran so swiftly that his long bushy tail hung out in a straight line with
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