The sight of four stalwart Indians dragging on a dog sled the body of an enormous moose on the ice in front of their home very much interested the children.
Nothing would do but they must be wrapped up and allowed to go out and examine it while the men rested and had a smoke. Its great horns, its enormous ugly head, and then its coarse, bristle-like hair, had all to be examined and commented upon. The opportune arrival of Souwanas, who had been attracted by the sight of the moose, much pleased the children, and just as soon as the investigation of the moose was over and the hunters had proceeded on their journey the children insisted on Souwanas going home to Wahkiegun with them and telling them something about the moose. They also wanted to hear a wonderful story, which he knew, telling how Nanahboozhoo helped the elks to conquer the moose.
When there is a disposition to surrender we are easily conquered. So it was with Souwanas on this occasion. The children in their love for their friend pleaded so importunately that a good cup of tea was prepared for and much enjoyed by him before he began his story, his interested auditors as close as possible around him.
"Once when Nanahboozhoo was journeying through the country," said Souwanas, "he found a village of Indians who were very poor. They were called Oomaskos, Elk people. They had nothing but the poorest of robes on their backs, and they were nearly destitute of everything in the shape of traps, weapons, and canoes. The village was strangely silent, for even the dogs, that generally are around in such numbers, had disappeared. When Nanahboozhoo saw this destitution and poverty he at once inquired the reason, and was surprised and very angry to hear that they were great gamblers.
"Not far off from them was another village whose people were called Mooswa, or Moose people, and Nanahboozhoo soon found out that, while the inhabitants of these two villages were antagonistic to each other, they frequently met to gamble, and that the Moose people were nearly always successful and had won from the Elk people nearly everything they possessed. The latter were very much humiliated at Nanahboozhoo's finding them in such a wretched condition, but they told him they were convinced that some trickery had been practiced upon them by their opponents. They also informed Nanahboozhoo that they would be glad if he would help them to get back their much needed possessions.
"Nanahboozhoo promised that he would assist them on condition that after their possessions were regained they should give up the pernicious habit of gambling. This they unanimously promised to do. The first thing Nanahboozhoo did was to disguise himself as a whisky-jack and fly over to the village of the Moose people and try to discover how it was that they had been so invariably successful when they gambled with the Elk people. It was as he suspected. His old enemies the Anamakquis, the evil spirits that had destroyed his brother Nahpootee, the wolf, had sent one of their number among the Moose people, and he had enabled them to win nearly all of the dogs, as well as other things, from the Elk people. Indeed, he himself had generally been the one who had tossed the plum stones with which they gambled, and they had won by his magic powers.
"When Nanahboozhoo heard this he knew that his first work must be to secure the magic muskamoot (medicine bag). So he flew round and round, and peering in through the top of the wigwam, where the poles crossed each other, he was fortunate enough to see the magic bag hanging up on a cross pole over the place where the Anamakqui slept. He noticed also that it was well guarded and that it would require some cleverness on his part to get it.
"Nanahboozhoo was, as you know, a very clever fellow. He quickly flew back to the village of the Elk people and ordered the most industrious of the women, who were skillful in making fire bags, to make one exactly as he described. This was, of course, similar to the magic muskamoot he had seen hanging up in the tent.
"Nanahboozhoo then put into it things that would have just the opposite effect to those which were in the bag of the Anamakqui. He waited until it was dark, and then, noiselessly flying back to the village of the Moose people, he silently entered the wigwam at the top, where there was now a wide opening, as it was in the warm summer time, very quickly exchanged the bag he had with him for the magic muskamoot, and returned to the village of the Elk people. It did not take him long to arrange his plans. The chief of the Elks had a beautiful daughter, and it was given out that a fine young chief from a far-away tribe had come to ask for her in marriage. The father had welcomed this young chief—who was, of course, Nanahboozhoo—and as he had brought costly gifts he was at once acknowledged as the accepted son-in-law.
"The news spread rapidly and it soon reached the Moose village. When they heard of the many gifts which this rich young stranger had brought with him they, of course, were greedy to win them, as they had won the rest of the Elks' property. It was not many days before a company of them came over to the Elks, and meeting the beautiful daughter of the chief they said:
"'We have come over to have a game of plum stones with your lover, to see if he is a better player than we are.'
"The girl went at once into the wigwam and informed her intended husband, Nanahboozhoo, of the challenge of these people. She also told him that they were very clever but that they had no idea of him being anything else than what he appeared to be. Then she added:
"'Be sure to win; if you do not they will beat us with clubs and sticks. For the custom is that the side that is defeated in the gambling must submit to a beating by the conquerors.'
"Then Nanahboozhoo and the champion for the Moose people sat down on opposite sides of the bowl in which were the plum stones, while the people of each of the two villages ranged themselves behind their own champion. When Nanahboozhoo shook the bowl, and then let the plum stones cease rolling, it was seen that he had won every point. At this the Elks set up a great shout of triumph. The Moose people shouted back:
"'Don't be so fast; the game is to be the best three out of five; just wait until our man has played.'
"The plum stones were then handed to him and patting his medicine bag he confidently shook them up, but when they had ceased rolling it was seen that he had lost every point.
"The victory was now so nearly won that the Elks began to say:
"'Get your clubs ready to thrash the Moose people, for we are surely going to be winners this day.'
"The Moose people were, however, not yet quite discouraged. 'There are three tries yet,' they said, 'and our man may yet win.' But their hopes were soon gone, for when Nanahboozhoo threw the plum stones the third time he was as successful as at the first.
"This decided the game in favor of the Elks, who now rushed upon the Moose people and thrashed them all the way back to their own village.
"The Moose were very much humiliated at this defeat. They had not only had a good beating but, according to the custom of the tribes, they were obliged to restore much of the property which they had won from the Elks in their previous contests. A council was called not long after and there was quite a discussion among them as to the best plan to be adopted to defeat the Elks and regain supremacy. They decided on a trial of strength, for in such encounters they had generally been victorious. They had two high poles erected with a crossbar on the top, and the contest was to see which side could produce the man who should throw the heaviest stone over that bar. They sent their challenge to the Elks to meet them if they dare.
"The Elks quickly responded and were soon at the place where the Moose people, who were awaiting them, had erected the high poles with the crossbar. When everything had been arranged their strongest man took up a heavy stone and, with a tremendous effort, succeeded in barely throwing it, so that it struck the crossbar and carried it down to the ground. When the crossbar had been replaced a son of the chief of the Elks went forward, as though he would be the competitor on the side of the Elks. He pretended as though he could not even lift the heavy stone which the Moose champion had thrown. When the Moose people saw this they shouted out in triumph, and began to get ready to give the Elks as good a beating as they had received from them on a former occasion.
"Seeing them thus coming, Nanahboozhoo rushed forward, seized the heavy stone, and sent it high up and far over the tops of the poles—thus winning the victory again for the Elks. With a shout of triumph the Elks again attacked the Moose and drove them in disgrace back to their own village. The Moose people were now more humiliated than ever, but they determined to try another plan; for they were resolved not to give up to the Elks, whom they had so often defeated. After much consultation they said:
"'Let us have a contest at diving in the lake, that we may see if our champion cannot remain longer under the water than any one of the Elks.'
"So they went over to the village of the Elks and told them they had come to have another contest with them. To the proposal of the Moose the Elks all agreed, and both parties proceeded to the lake. Here a large hole was cut in the ice and the champion of the Moose prepared to go down into the water. One of the brothers of the beautiful Indian girl who had been selected as Nanahboozhoo's bride said to Nanahboozhoo:
"'As our bodies are tougher than yours you must let me compete this time.'
"Nanahboozhoo would not let him do this. He said:
"'I am not afraid of the cold water, and besides I have plenty of friends down there.'
"And, sure enough, the mud turtle came up and said, in words that only Nanahboozhoo could understand:
"'My brother, I have come up at the request of your brother, the wolf, to aid you. Trust yourself in my care and no harm will come to you.'
"Nanahboozhoo was well pleased to hear this, for he knew that his spirit brother had sent his friend the mud turtle to help him in this trial.
"The competitors now stripped themselves, and when the signal was given they both dived into the water and disappeared. The Moose people had such confidence in their champion that they had all brought with them very heavy sticks with which they intended giving the Elks a great beating in return for the two previous defeats.
"The Elks, however, were not dismayed. They only said:
"'Just wait until the contest is decided.'
"In the meantime the competitors under the water were so near together at first that the people on the land heard the Moose say, 'Elk, are you cold?' To which the mud turtle, who had covered the Elk competitor over with his shell, replied:
"'No, Moose; but are you cold?'
"As the people on the shore could not hear any answer to this question it gave some alarm to the Moose people about their champion, who they feared must be benumbed with the cold. This was really the case, for in a short time he came to the surface of the water so nearly frozen to death that he had to be helped out of the water.
"When the mud turtle and Nanahboozhoo heard the shoutings of triumph of the Elks they knew that the Moose champion had failed, and so they came up to the surface. Nanahboozhoo swam ashore and joined in the pursuit of the disheartened Moose people, who had again so signally failed.
"These repeated defeats very much angered and humiliated the Moose people. They almost quarreled among themselves in their vexation as they talked them over at their councils. Still they were in no humor to give up. They had two very swift runners among them, and they decided to challenge the Elks to a foot race. So they again sent a number of their party over to the tent of the Elk people and said:
"'We are not at all satisfied yet, and we wish to know if the son of the chief and his brother-in-law, the young stranger who has come into your midst, will run a foot race against two of our young people.'
"This challenge was at once accepted and soon all preparations were made for the great race. It was decided that it should be run on the ice of the frozen lake, which was several miles round. Much snow had fallen, but the people of both sides turned out for days and cleared out a good track. They made it near the shore, and so that the finishing spot would be near where was the starting point.
"The Moose felt quite certain of winning this time, because by their magic their runners were to be turned into real Moose, with four legs, and they argued that runners with four feet could surely beat those who had only two. But there were others who had heard about this great race, and among them was the wolf, the spirit brother of Nanahboozhoo, and so he came to him the night before the race.
"'My brother,' he said, 'I will come and help you in this race. You are the only one that can see me, so I will be on the track, about half way round, and when you come there you can get on my back and I will carry you at a greater speed. But you must keep your legs moving as if rapidly running, or the people will suspect something unusual.'
"There was a great crowd to witness this race between the two great Moose, to represent the Moose people, and the son of the chief and his unknown brother-in-law to represent the Elks. When the signal was given away they started over the icy trail. The Moose soon were at the front, with the chief's son not far behind. Nanahboozhoo was purposely a little in the rear, and so was able to spring upon the wolf's back without attracting attention.
"With this steed under him he sped along with marvelous rapidity. At the half-way point of the race he overtook his brother-in-law, and giving him his hand, they were soon far in front. When they rushed in ahead there was great excitement. The Moose people were soon running back to their village with the Elks whipping them to the very doors of their wigwams.
"After this the Moose dare not challenge the Elks to any further contest, but they were so furious that they meditated murder in their hearts toward the young stranger, who had, they now saw, been the cause of their many defeats. Nanahboozhoo, however, easily thwarted their evil schemes, but at length some of them were so bad that his anger was aroused and he exerted all his magic power.
"'Moose you are by name,' he said to them, 'and for your bad deeds I change you into the animals after whom you are named. Hereafter you will live in the swamps, among the willows and young birch. On them you will have to browse for a living. For a little variety in your food you may, in the summer time, go out into the shallow waters and paw up and eat the great roots of the water-lilies.'
"Thus the Elks again had peace and quietness. Gambling was never again allowed among them, and Nanahboozhoo, after receiving their grateful thanks, returned to his own country."
"What did he do after that?" asked Sagastao.
"Not much, for a while; but after a time he decided to go away up North. Each fall, however, he comes and looks around to see how everything is going on. Then he rests on some of the mountains and has a big smoke, which settles down on the hillsides and valleys and makes the beautiful hazy time which we all call the Indian Summer."
"Well," said Minnehaha, "if the smoke of Nanahboozhoo's big pipe of peace makes the beautiful haze of the lovely Indian Summer, it is about the best thing I have heard yet of tobacco smoke doing."
And so say we all.