A great chief, Red Thunder, was traveling with his wife and three children to a council of the nations. When they were near the place appointed for the meeting, one of the children saw a beautiful white bird winging its way high in the air. He pointed upwards, clapping his hands with delight, for it was flying swiftly towards the earth and the sun was shining on its broad back and wings.
While the smile was on their faces the bird suddenly appeared above them, and in a moment struck their mother to the earth, driving her into the ground so that no portion of her body remained. The force of the blow was so great that the bird itself was broken in pieces and its plumes were scattered far and wide. The Indians assembled at the council, rushed forth eagerly to secure them; for a white feather is not easily procured and is highly prized in time of war. great agony. Then taking his little ones with him he tied into the forest, and no man ever saw him again. He built himself a lodge and never passed far from its doorway. When Winter shook his white locks and covered the land with snow, Red Thunder fell, shot by an unseen arrow.
Thus the three boys were left alone. Even the eldest was not large enough or strong enough to bring home much food, and all that they could do was to set snares for rabbits. The animals were sorry for them and took them in charge. The squirrels dropped nuts at their doorway, and a great brown bear kept guard over them at night. They were too young to remember much of their parents, and they were brave boys, who tried their best to learn how to hunt and fish. The eldest soon became skillful and he taught his brothers.
When they were all able to take care of themselves, the eldest wanted to leave them and go to see the world, to find other lodges and bring home wives for each of them. The younger ones would not hear of this, and said that they had gone along so far well without strangers, and they could still do without them. So they continued to live together and no more was said about any of them leaving.
One day they wanted new quivers for their arrows. One made his of otter, another chose sheep, and a third took wolf skin. Then they thought it well to make new arrows. They made many, some being of oak and a few, very precious, of the thigh-bone of the buck. It took them much longer to fashion the heads of flint and sandstone; but at last all were finished, and they were ready for a grand hunt. They laid wagers with one another as to who should come in first with game, each one agreeing to kill only the animal he was in the habit of taking, and not to meddle with what he knew belonged to his brother.
The youngest, named Deep Voice, had not gone far when he met a black bear, which according to the agreement he was not to kill. But the animal was so close to him that he could not refrain from taking aim. The bear fell dead at his feet. His scruples were gone then, so he began skinning it.
Soon his eyes troubled him and he rubbed them with his bloody hands, when, on looking up, everything appeared red. He went to the brook and washed his hands and face, but the same red hue was still on the trees, the ground, and even on the skin of the black bear. He heard a strange noise, and leaving the animal partly skinned, went to see whence it came.
By following the sound he came to the shore of a great lake, where he saw a beautiful swan swimming. Its feathers were not like those of any other swan he had ever seen, for they were a brilliant scarlet and glistened in the sun.
He drew one of his arrows and fired at it, but the arrow fell short of its mark. He shot again and again until his quiver was empty. Still the swan remained dipping its long neck into the water, seemingly ignorant of the hunter's presence.
Then he remembered that three magic arrows which had belonged to his father were in the wigwam. At any other time he would not have thought of meddling with them; but he was determined to secure this beautiful bird. He ran quickly to the lodge, brought the arrows and fired them. The first went very near the bird, but did not strike it. The second also fell harmless in the water. The third struck the swan in the neck; but she rose immediately and flew towards the setting sun.
Deep Voice was disappointed, and knowing that his brothers would be angry about the loss of the arrows, he rushed into the water and secured the first two, but found that the third had been carried off by the red swan.
He thought that as the bird was wounded it could not fly far, so, placing the magic arrows in his quiver, he ran on to overtake it. Over hills and prairies, through the forests and out on the plain he went, till at last it grew dark and he lost sight of the swan.
On coming out of the forest he heard voices in the distance, and knew that people could not be far off. He looked about and saw a large town on a distant hill and heard the watchman, an old owl, call out, "We are visited," to which the people answered with a loud "Hallo!"
Deep Voice approached the watchman and told him that he came for no evil purpose, but merely to ask for shelter. The owl said nothing, but led him to the lodge of the Chief, and told him to enter.
"Come in, come in," said the Chief; "sit there," he added, as the young man appeared.
He was given food to eat and but few questions were asked him.
By and by the Chief, who had been watching him closely, said, "Daughter, take our son-in-law's moccasins, and if they need mending, do it for him."
Deep Voice was much astonished to find himself married at such short notice, but made up his mind to let one of his brothers have her for his wife. She was not good-looking and she proved herself bad-tempered by snatching the moccasins in such a surly manner that Deep Voice ran after her, took them from her and hung them up himself.
Being very tired he soon fell asleep. Early next morning he said to the girl: "Which way did the red swan go?"
"Do you think you can catch it?" she said, and turned angrily away.
Yes," he answered.
"Foolishness!" said the girl; but as he persisted, she went to the door and showed him the direction in which the bird had flown.
It was still dark, and as the road was strange to him he traveled slowly. When daylight came he started to run and ran all day as fast as lie could. Towards night he was almost exhausted and was glad to find himself near another village, where he might be able to rest.
This village also had an owl for a watchman, a large, gray bird, who saw him at a distance and called to those in the camp, "Tu-who! we are visited."
Deep Voice was shown to the lodge of the Chief and treated exactly as on the first night. This time the Chief's daughter was beautiful and gentle in her ways. "She shall be for my elder brother," thought the boy, "for he has always been kind to me."
He slept soundly all night and it was nearly dawn when he awoke; but he lost no time, for the Chief's daughter was ready to answer his questions at once. She told him the red swan had passed about the middle of the previous afternoon, showed him the exact course it took and pointed out the shortest road to the prairie.
He went slowly until sunrise and then ran as before. He was a swift runner, for he could shoot an arrow and then pass it in its flight so that it would fall behind him. He did this many times on the second day, for it helped him to travel faster. Towards evening, not seeing any town, he went more leisurely, thinking that he would have to travel all night.
Soon after dark he saw a glow of light in the woods, and found when he went nearer that it came from a small, low lodge. He went cautiously on and looked in at the doorway. An old man was sitting by the fire, his head bent forward on his breast.
Although Deep Voice had not made the slightest noise the old man called out, "Come in, my grandson."
The boy entered.
"Take a seat there," said the old man, pointing to a corner opposite him by the fire. "Now dry your things, for you must be tired, and I will cook supper for you. My kettle of water stands near the fire."
Deep Voice had been looking about the fireplace, but had seen no kettle. Now there appeared a small earthen pot filled with water. The old man took one grain of corn and one whortleberry, dropped them into the pot and set it where it would boil. Deep Voice was hungry and thought to himself that there was small chance of a good supper.
When the water boiled the old man took the kettle off, handed him a dish and spoon made of the same material as the pot and told him to help himself.
Deep Voice found the soup so good that he helped himself again and again until he had taken all there was. He felt ashamed, but he was still hungry.
Before he could speak, the old man said, "Eat, eat, my grandchild, help yourself," and motioned to the pot, which was immediately refilled.
Deep Voice again helped himself to all the soup and again the kettle was filled, and his hunger was satisfied. Then the pot vanished.
"My grandchild," said the old man, when Deep Voice had finished, "you have set out on a difficult journey, but you will succeed. Only be determined, and be prepared for whatever may happen. Tomorrow you will go on your way until the sun sets, when you will find one of my fellow-magicians. He will give you food and shelter and will tell you more than I am permitted to do. Only be firm. On the day beyond to-morrow you will meet still another who will tell you all you wish to know and how you are to gain your wish."
Deep Voice lay down on the buffalo skins, which were white and soft, and slept soundly; for the old man's words made him very happy.
The magician prepared his breakfast as he had done the supper, after which the boy went on his way. He found the second magician as he had been told, and was given a supper from a magic kettle, and a couch upon white buffalo robes.
The second magician did not seem so sure of the young man's success. "Many have gone this way before you," said he, "and none have ever come back. We shall see, we shall see."
This was said to try the courage of Deep Voice; but he remembered what the first magician had told him and was firm in his resolution.
After breakfast next day he ran forward quickly, for he was anxious to meet the third magician who should tell him all about the red swan. But though he ran all day he did not get to the third lodge any earlier than he had reached the others.
After a supper prepared as on the previous nights, the magician said to him: "My grandchild, to-morrow night you will come to the lodge of the Red Swan. She is not a bird, but a beautiful girl, the most beautiful that ever lived. Her father is a magician and rich in wampum. This wampum is of much value, for many of the shells were brought from the Great Salt Lake; but he prizes his daughter far more than all. The Red Swan loves her father, and all her life is spent in making him comfortable. The old man has met with a misfortune, having lost his cap of wampum which used to be fastened to his scalp and was never removed, night or day. A tribe of Indians, who had heard of it, one day sent to him, saying that their Chief's daughter was very ill and that but one thing could cure her—a sight of this magic cap of wampum. The magician did not suspect the messengers, though he tried to persuade them to bring the maiden to him. They declared that she could not be moved; whereupon the old man tore off his cap, though it gave him much pain to do so, and sent it to the Chief. The story was all a pretense; and when they got the cap they made fun of it and placed it on a pole for the birds to peck at, and the stranger to ridicule. The old man is not strong enough to get the cap back; but he has been told that a young warrior shall ! some day procure it for him. The Red Swan goes forth in the Moon of Falling Leaves to seek for this Brave, and she has promised to be the wife of him who is successful. My grandchild, many have followed her and have failed, but I think you will be more favored. When you are seated in the lodge of the Red Swan, the magician will ask you many things. Tell him your dreams and what your guardian spirits have done for you. Then he will ask you to recover his cap of wampum and will show you what you are to do to find and punish the wicked possessors of it."
Deep Voice was greatly pleased to hear that he might win such a beautiful wife. He leaped and ran gaily through the forest the next day, and the idea that he might fail never entered his mind. Towards evening he heard deep groans, which he believed came from the lodge of the Red Swan.
It was not long before he reached a fine wigwam, and on entering saw the magician seated in the center, holding his head with both hands and moaning with pain.
The old man prepared supper, for no one was allowed to see the Red Swan, or even to know that she was in the wigwam. But Deep Voice saw a curtain dividing the lodge, and thought that he heard a rustle of wings.
His heart did not fail him, and he answered the old man's questions patiently and truthfully. When he told his dreams, the magician shook his head, saying, "No, that is not the one, that is not it," to each, until Deep Voice thought he would not tell him any more. He was not willing, however, to give up the Red Swan, so at last he remembered a dream wholly different from the others, which he straightway told.
The magician became quite excited before he had finished his story, and exclaimed: "That's it, that's it! You will cause me to live! That is what I have been waiting for a young man to say. Will you go and get my cap for me?"
"Yes," said Deep Voice, "and on the day beyond to-morrow when you hear the voice of the night-hawk, you must put your head out of the door of the lodge. You will see me coming with the cap, which I will fasten on your head before I enter. The magic food that I have eaten has given me the power to change my form, so I shall come as a night-hawk, and will give the cry to let you know that I am successful. Have ready your war-club that I may seize it to strike with when I come."
Deep Voice had not known when he began speaking what he would say, but as the magician looked at him the words came. In spite of all the tales that he had heard about the young men who had gone before him, and the magician told him many that night, Deep Voice was anxious to begin his task. He rose early and went in the direction pointed out to him.
When he saw the cap at a distance he thought that no one was near it; but as he went nearer he found that those about it were as the hanging leaves for number. Knowing that he could not pass unharmed through so great a crowd, he changed himself into a humming-bird and flew close enough to the cap to examine it, but did not touch it, for fear an arrow might be aimed at him.
The cap was tied securely to a tall pole and no bird could unfasten it without his actions being noticed. Deep Voice, therefore, changed himself into the down of a dandelion and lighted on the cap itself. He thrust his silver fingers under and between the cords, untied them, and lifted the cap slowly, for it was a great weight for so small a thing to carry.
When the crowd below saw the cap moving, and that it was being carried away, they raised a great shout and ran after it, shooting clouds of arrows as they went. The wind which blew the arrows blew the down out of their reach; so it was soon far enough from them to be safe for Deep Voice to take the form of a bird. As a night-hawk he flew swiftly towards the magician's lodge, giving the call he had named as a signal.
The old man heard him and looked out. Deep Voice flew close to him and dropped the cap upon his head; then changing himself into a man, he seized the war-club which the magician had placed just outside the lodge, and with one powerful blow fastened the cap securely, but knocked the old man senseless. When he recovered, what was the surprise of Deep Voice to see, not the old magician who had entertained him, but a handsome young warrior who said to him, "Thank you, my friend, for the bravery and kindness by which you have restored my youth and strength."
He urged Deep Voice to remain in his lodge as his guest. They hunted together many days and became fast friends. At last Deep Voice wished to return to his brothers. The young magician then brought out gifts—buffalo robes and deer skin white as snow, strings and belts of wampum, as much as he could carry, enough to make him a great man in any country.
During all his stay nothing had been said about the Red Swan. This day, as they were smoking their farewell pipe, the young magician said to Deep Voice: "My brother, you know the reward that was to be for him who restored my cap of wampum. I have given you riches that will be all that you will want as long as you live. I now give you the best gift of all."
At this the Red Swan appeared.
"Take her," said the magician; "she is my sister, let her be your wife."
So Deep Voice and the Red Swan went home by the way he came, stopping at the lodges of the old magicians to take with them the wives for his brothers. The Red Swan far surpassed them in beauty and loveliness, and her daughters and their daughters have ever been known as the handsomest women of the tribe.