LONE WOLF was an Indian, who with his wife and ten sons moved some distance from their tribe and built themselves a lodge in the forest. The man and his wife were both old, and when sickness came they had no strength to fight it, but died within a few moons of each other. The sons were too young to live by themselves, and therefore went to the wigwam of their uncle, Deep Lake, their mother's brother. He gave them food and shelter until the elder ones were able to hunt and so provide for their brothers.
One morning several of them started out, each going in a different direction. The eldest went towards the north, because he was better able to travel far and to fight the fierce animals which lived in that region.
The night came, bright with many stars, but he did not return.
The next morning the second brother set out in the same direction, thinking he might find the trail of the other. He did not return. Then the third brother went in search of those who had disappeared, and he, too, was seen no more.
Thus they all followed one another, until only the youngest, Little Elk, was left with his uncle. He was too small and feeble to hope to succeed where his brothers had failed; and Deep Lake forbade him going out alone, for fear the witch or giant who had destroyed his brothers should do him harm.
One day while Deep Lake and Little Elk were in the woods together they heard a deep groan which seemed to come from the ground. They searched and found a man covered with mold and lying under a great log.
"Quick," said Deep Lake to his nephew, "run to the lodge and get the bear's oil."
Little Elk hurried to the wigwam and returned with a jar of bear's oil, with which he rubbed the man until he became conscious and was able to speak. His words were very strange, considering that he had never seen either of them before.
"You," said he, looking at the boy, "are Little Elk. You had nine brothers who set out towards the barren place to hunt, and not one of them ever returned."
The old man began to suspect magic, and asked, tremblingly, "Who are you?"
"I," said the stranger, "am Rotten Foot, the brother of the Great Head."
Deep Lake knew well about the Great Head. It was an enormous head without any body. It had large eyes that rolled about fearfully, and long, coarse hair like that of the grizzly bear, and it streamed over the huge cleft rock that was his home. Seen or unseen, if it caught sight of any living thing it would shriek in a shrill voice, "I see thee, I see thee; thou shalt die!"
Deep Lake had been a brave chief, and he thought perhaps he could conquer the Great Head, or that at least he could find out about his nephews, whom he felt sure the Head had destroyed, and the plan which occurred to him was to be kind to the Head's brother, so that he might learn more about him.
He therefore invited Rotten Foot to his wigwam, gave him the most comfortable seat by the fire, rubbed his stiff limbs with bear's oil, and set dainty food before him.
When he was warm and well fed, Deep Lake began to question him about the Head. "Could you bring him here?" he said at last.
"He would not come merely for the asking, but I might lure him hither," was the reply.
The next day Rotten Foot set out in search of his brother. He promised to use all his skill and magic, if necessary, to bring him to the lodge. "Have ready some blocks of the maple tree for the Head's food, in case he should return with me," said he, as he set out on his journey.
He pulled up a hickory tree and made arrows of its roots; then he crept cautiously along until he saw the cleft rock in the distance. Fearing that he might be seen, he used his magic and crawled inside a mole and told the animal to burrow in the ground, so as to hide him.
It was not long before he heard the Head growl, "I see thee, I see thee; thou shalt die!"
He looked out and saw that his brother was watching an owl, which immediately dropped from the tree, its flesh crumbled and its bones immediately lay bare.
Rotten Foot drew out an arrow and aimed it at his brother. It was but a small arrow when it started, but it grew larger and larger as it neared the Head. It did not strike him, but flew back, growing smaller and smaller until it was its original size, and slipped itself into the quiver at Rotten Foot's side.
Feeling sure that the Head would follow him, he turned and ran towards Deep Lake's wigwam. The ridge that the mole made as it passed along completely hid him from the view of the Head, who soon followed in a roaring tempest.
Deep Lake heard him tearing through the forest, and provided himself and Little Elk with war-clubs in case he should attack the wigwam.
Just as Rotten Foot reached the wigwam and was about to jump out of the mole's skin, the Head recognized his brother. He was delighted to see him, for he had long since supposed him dead. He laughed so loudly that the clouds were broken and a rainbow appeared above the trees.
On hearing the change in his voice, from fierce anger to laughter, Deep Lake and Little Elk dropped their clubs and brought out the blocks of the maple tree.
The Head devoured them greedily, and when he had finished he told them that he had made up his mind to kill a witch who lived towards the north, and who destroyed twice as many animals and men as he did. "I never kill the brave or the innocent," said he; "but she has no mercy, and draws men to their death by her sweet songs. They lull the unwary hunter as the snow lulls him when he staggers and falls in the forest."
Deep Lake then said, "Let me go with you, for the witch has slain my nephews, nine men, all brothers of this lad."
"No," said the Head, "I will take the boy, and he shall help to avenge their death."
They traveled in the night, and early in the morning came in sight of the witch's lodge. It was a cave filled with dead men's bones. Their fingers hung from the roof, their scalps were heaped together for her couch, their skulls were her bowls and kettles.
She sat rocking herself to and fro, singing a low, sweet song, the notes of which made all who heard it turn cold and shiver till all their flesh was shaken off them and they became nothing but dry bones.
The Head had told Little Elk to put two clover blossoms into his ears so that he could not hear her. When they were near her lodge he said to the lad: "I will ask her the question, 'How long have you been here?' This will break the charm of her song upon me, but you will see the hair fall from my head. You must put it back as fast as it comes out and it will grow at once and very long; then I will jump upon her and bite her. You must take the pieces of flesh from my mouth and throw them from you, saying, 'Be a fox, a bird,' or anything you choose, so they will run off and never return."
As they crept up to the cave, the Head shouted, "How long have you been here?"
His hair began to fall out in long, thick locks, which Little Elk at once replaced. The Head then jumped upon the witch, and she screamed and begged for mercy; but he answered, "You had no mercy on others; you must die!"
He bit her and killed her, and all the plain was covered with animals and the river was filled with fish from the pieces of her body. To make sure of her never coming to life again, they burned her bones and scattered them on the river.
Then the Head told Little Elk to search for the year-old bones, which would be whiter than the others, and lay them together. "Now," said he, "I am going home, and as I go I will raise a tempest that will strike into the mouth of this cave. As it touches the bones, you must say, 'All arise.'"
Little Elk had just laid down the last bone when he heard the wind rising in the forest. As it blew into the cave he called loudly, "All arise!"
The bones stood up and were immediately covered with flesh. The brothers recognized one another, and one and all praised Little Elk for his courage and his patience. Then they vanished down the trail in the forest.