One beautiful warm day, when the leaves of the trees were all bright and golden with their autumnal tints, the children were visiting at the tent of Souwanas.
The old man was making a beautiful little bow and a quiver full of arrows for Sagastao while the old wife was manufacturing an elaborate baby cradle, of the Indian pattern, for Minnehaha, in which she could carry her favorite doll in the style popular among the Indian girls.
The children were much interested in watching these highly-prized gifts being prepared for them, and of course had much to say in the way of thanks to those who were doing so much to add to their happiness.
While they were thus busy several canoes were seen coming from the south. As the wind was favorable sails had been improvised out of blankets, each fastened to a couple of oars, and with these simple appliances they sped rapidly along. Seeing Souwanas's wigwam on the point of land the Indians came to the shore and smoked and chatted for a short time ere they resumed their journey toward the north.
They had in their canoes quite a variety of game, and among them a large ill-smelling bird called a turkey-buzzard. It was said that the young Indian hunter who had shot it thought at first that it really was a turkey, but he found out his mistake when he went to lift it from the ground where it had fallen. The odor was so offensive that at first he thought he would leave it behind, but when he remembered that often some of the large feathers were used in ornamental work he decided to bring it along.
The children were interested in its appearance, as this was the first dead turkey-buzzard they had ever seen.
"Look, Souwanas," said Minnehaha, "the poor birdie has no feathers on its neck or head. It must be very cold there when the winter comes."
"Well, I think that, as likely as not, it was its own fault that it lost its feathers," said Sagastao, and then he added as he poked the rank bird over with a stick:
"I would not be surprised to hear that Nanahboozhoo had something to do with it."
"Nanahboozhoo had," said Souwanas, "and it was because of a mean trick that the buzzard played upon him. And now that these Indians are off, who are in a hurry to reach Poplar Point, if you will sit down on the rocks in the warm sunshine I will tell you the story."
No second invitation was necessary, so while the children seated themselves near him on the; smooth granite rock the old man continued his arrow making and told them the following story:
"One day when Nanahboozhoo was walking through the country he saw the buzzard soaring up high in the air. Like an eagle, he was making graceful circles round and round with very little effort. After a time the buzzard flew down to the earth, and there he stood on a rock with his great wings outstretched. Nanahboozhoo quietly approached and entered into conversation with him.
"'Brother Buzzard,' he said, 'you must be very happy when sailing around up there in the blue sky where you can so easily see everything that is going on down here on the world below you. I wish you would take me up there on your back and let me see how this world looks from that high place in the blue sky, where you live so much.'
"The buzzard on hearing this request at once flew down to the side of Nanahboozhoo and said:
"'I will with pleasure take you up on my back and let you see, as you desire, how the world looks from that high place.'
"Then Nanahboozhoo, seeing how smooth was the back of the great bird, said:
"'Brother Buzzard, your back is so smooth that I am afraid I will slip off, so you must be careful not to sweep round too rapidly in your circles in the sky.'
"The buzzard told Nanahboozhoo that he would be very careful although at the same time he was resolved, if it were possible, to play a trick on him; for he had a grudge of some long standing against him which Nanahboozhoo seemed to have forgotten.
"Nanahboozhoo then mounted on the back of the great buzzard and held by his feathers as well as he possibly could. The buzzard then took a short run, sprang from the ground, and spreading his great strong wings speedily rose up higher and higher in the sky.
"Nanahboozhoo at first felt rather timid as he found himself thus rapidly soaring through the air, especially as it was so difficult for him to keep his seat. When the buzzard began circling round and round it was even more difficult, for the body of the bird leaned over more and more as his speed increased. But Nanahboozhoo was very clever, and after a while he became more accustomed to his queer position and was very much interested in the splendid sights of the great world beneath him, over which he could now see for such a great distance. Lakes and rivers, forests and mountains, all gave delight to Nanahboozhoo, who had wonderful powers of vision.
"At length, as they rose up higher and higher in the blue sky, Nanahboozhoo shouted out in his delight as far away in the distance he recognized the wigwam of his grandmother, Nokomis. Indeed so delighted was he that for a moment he let go his hold on the buzzard and swung up his arms in his excitement. The treacherous buzzard noticed this, saw it was the opportunity for which he had been watching, and circled round so suddenly that his body was tilted over, and before Nanahboozhoo could regain his grip he slipped off the smooth back and fell like a stone to the ground. So terrible was the force with which he struck the earth that he was knocked senseless, and lay there for a long time like one dead.
"But, as I have told you, Nanahboozhoo was more than human and nothing could really kill him. So it happened that after a while he recovered his senses, but he was annoyed, disgusted, that he had allowed the buzzard to play such a mean trick on him.
"Then he prepared to resume his journey, and of course he looked up to see if there were any sign of the buzzard. He had not far to look, for there, up in the sky, not far off, was the old buzzard laughing at the trick he had played upon Nanahboozhoo, and much pleased with his own cleverness in deceiving one known to be so crafty.
"'Laugh away, old buzzard,' said Nanahboozhoo. 'You have had the best of me this time, but look out! For I will put a mark upon you for this trick of yours that will enable your friends and your enemies to recognize you both by day and by night.'
"But the buzzard, from his high safe place in the sky, only laughed back in derision, and said:
"'No, indeed, Nanahboozhoo, you will do nothing of the kind. You have been deceiving the other creatures, but in me you have found your match. You cannot deceive me. And now, especially as you have threatened me, I will always be on the watch for you.'
"Nanahboozhoo made no reply to this boastful speech, but he did a lot of thinking, and he soon had his plans laid to teach Mr. Buzzard a lesson he would never forget.
"Resuming his journey he pushed on as though nothing had happened.
"The buzzard was at first suspicious and watched him for some time. Then seeing nothing unusual in his movements he flew away into the distant sky.
"Nanahboozhoo, in order to carry out his plan to punish the buzzard, resolved to turn himself into a dead deer. He knew that the buzzard lived on dead animals of all kinds. He chose a high spot, visible from a great distance, and there he laid himself down and changed himself into the body of a great deer. It was not long before the various animals and birds that subsist on such things began to gather round this dead body.
"The buzzard, that has such wonderful eyes, to see great distances, saw from afar this gathering of the birds and animals, and as he was ever on the lookout for such things he soon joined the rest of the creatures around the deer. He flew round and round it several times, for he was at first somewhat suspicious. The closest inspection, however, showed him that it was only a dead deer, and that was the unanimous opinion of all the other animals and birds that gathered there. There could be no doubt in any creature's mind but that it was a deer and that it was quite dead.
"The buzzard, now that all his suspicions were gone, in his great greed to get the best he could savagely began, with his powerful beak, tearing a hole in the side of the body that he might get down to the rich fat that is around the kidneys. This is what those fierce, greedy birds always try to get first. Deeper and deeper into the flesh he tore, until at length he was able to crowd in his head and neck to reach the dainty morsels he so much prized.
"This was just what Nanahboozhoo was waiting for, and when the head and neck of the buzzard were completely hidden in the body up jumped the deer, and as he did so the flesh closed up so tightly around the head and neck of the buzzard that the greedy bird was there securely held.
"'Ha, ha, old buzzard! I did catch you after all, as I said I would,' said Nanahboozhoo. 'Now pull out your neck and head.'
"The buzzard with very great difficulty at length succeeded in drawing his head out of the side of the deer. The effort to do so, however, was so great that he lost all of the beautiful feathers that once adorned his head and neck. From that day they have never grown on him again, and there is nothing there to be seen but the red rough-looking skin.
"'Never again,' said Nanahboozhoo, 'will feathers cover your neck or head, and so your friends and enemies, as they see you, will be reminded of how Nanahboozhoo punished you for playing one of your tricks on him. And also from this time forward your food will only be of the rankest kind, and the disagreeable odor will so cling to you that even in the darkest nights your hateful presence will be detected and shunned.'
"Thus," added Souwanas, "the buzzard is the most despised of birds, because he is such an ugly fellow, with his featherless head and neck, and because his disagreeable odor taints the sweet air wherever he goes."