WHITE HAWK was known as the laziest boy in the tribe. When his father set his nets, even on the coldest days in winter, he had to do it alone; for White Hawk would never help him either to carry the net or to cut the ice. He neither hunted nor fished, he took no part in the games of the young men, and he refused to wait upon his parents, until his name became a reproach.
His father and mother were deeply grieved by his conduct, for they themselves were industrious and frugal. They did not, like many of their tribe, return from the wintering grounds to feast and be idle; but built themselves a lodge in the forest, where they laid store for the future. At last they determined to try to shame White Hawk out of his laziness. So one night when he had refused to go to fetch water for them, the father said: "Ah, my son, one who is afraid to go to the river after dark will never kill the Red Head."
Now, it was the ambition of every Indian boy to kill the Red Head. Though his parents did not know it, White Hawk had always believed that he would accomplish it, and he often sat and thought of different ways in which it might be done, for he was strong, despite his laziness.
He made no answer, but went at once to bed. The next morning he asked his mother to make him some new moccasins of deer skin while he cut some arrows. He made only four, which he put into a shabby quiver and laid beside his moccasins ready to take with him in the morning.
He rose before daylight, and without waking either his father or his mother put on his moccasins, took his bow and quiver and set out, determined to kill the Red Head before he returned. He did not know which way to go, so as soon as it was light he shot an arrow into the air and followed the direction of its flight.
He traveled all day. Towards night he was tired and hungry, for he had brought no food with him and had found but a few acorns in the forest. To his surprise he saw a fat deer with an arrow in its side lying across his path.
It was the arrow he had shot that morning. He did not pull it out, but cut off as much meat as he wanted to eat and left the rest for the coyotes.
He slept in a hollow tree all night. Early the next morning he shot another arrow into the air to find out in what direction to go that day, and at night he found another deer that had been pierced by this arrow.
Thus it happened every day for four days; but as he had not withdrawn any of the arrows, on the fifth day he had none to use and so was without food. He was very hungry, for he had long since left the woods and there were no nuts or berries on the prairie.
He lay down, thinking he might as well die there as elsewhere, for he was suffering great pain from hunger. It was not long before he heard a hollow, rumbling sound that seemed to be under ground.
He stood up and looking around, saw a broad, beaten path leading across the prairie. An old woman was walking along this path, thumping the ground with a stick at every step.
He went nearer and was terribly frightened, for he discovered that she was a witch, known throughout the country as "the little old woman who makes war."
She wore a mantle made entirely of women's scalps. Her staff, which was a stout, hickory stick, was ornamented with a string of toes and bills of birds of all kinds. At every stroke of the staff they fluttered and sang, each in its own fashion, and the discord was horrible.
White Hawk followed her, creeping along in the high grass so as to hide himself, until he saw her lodge, which was on the shore of the lake. She entered, took off her mantle and shook it several times. At every shake the scalps uttered loud shrieks of laughter, in which the old witch joined.
Presently she came out, and without seeming to look, walked directly up to White Hawk. She told him that she knew all about his determination to kill the Red Head, and that she would help him. "Many young men have thought about killing him," she said, "but you are the only one who has set out to do it."
She insisted upon his going to her lodge to spend the night, and he went, although he knew that he would not be able to sleep in such a place.
She told him to lie down, and taking out a comb, began to comb his hair, which in a few moments became long and glossy, like a woman's. She tied its with a magic hairstring, and gave him a woman's dress of fine, soft skin, a necklace, and brooches of silver, and many strings of wampum. Then she painted his face red and yellow, not forgetting to put on some love-powder. Last of all she brought a silver bowl for him and slipped a blade of scented sword-grass into his girdle.
She told him that the Red Head lived on an island in the center of the lake on the shore of which her lodge was built.
On the morrow White Hawk should go down to the water and begin dipping they silver bowl into the lake and drinking from it. The Indians who were with the Red Head would see him, and, supposing him to be a woman, would come over in their canoes, and each would wish to make her his wife.
He was to say, "No, I will only marry the Red Head, and he must bring his own canoe for me, for I have traveled a long way in order to be his wife."
When the Red Head should receive the news he would cross in his canoe and take White Hawk to the island. The witch loaded him with presents to give in the event of a marriage, in which case he was to be on the watch for an opportunity to kill the Red Head by cutting off his head with the spear of scented sword-grass.
White Hawk rose next morning, put on the woman's garments that had been given him, went down to the lake and began dipping water with the silver bowl.
Presently many canoes were put out from the island. They were driven swiftly to the spot where he stood, and the men strove with one another in offers of marriage.
White Hawk acted as the witch told him a woman would under the circumstances. To all their entreaties he replied: "I have come a great way to see the Red Head, whom I am resolved to marry. If he wants me let him come in his own canoe to take me to his wigwam."
The message was taken to the Red Head, who immediately crossed the lake in his canoe. As it neared the shore White Hawk saw that its framework was of live rattlesnakes, who thrust out their heads and hissed and rattled as he stepped into the boat. The Red Head spoke to them and they quieted down, as dogs at the word of their master.
When they landed the Red Head went straight to his wigwam and the marriage was performed. Then a feast was spread, the presents were given and White Hawk waited his opportunity.
By and by Red Head's mother, who had been watching the bride closely, said to her husband, "That is no woman our son has married; no woman ever looked out of her eyes like that."
Her husband was very angry; and White Hawk, who had overheard the conversation, jumped up and said: "I have been insulted, and by my husband's people. I cannot live here. I will return at once to my nation," and he ran out of the wigwam, followed by the guests and by the Red Head, who motioned to them to leave him.
White Hawk went down to the shore and made pretense of getting into a canoe, when the Red Head laid a hand upon him and sorrowfully begged him to wait at least a little time. He turned back and sat down, when the Red Head threw himself at his wife's feet and put his head into her lap.
White Hawk lost not a moment in drawing out the blade of sword-grass and cutting off his head at a single stroke. He then plunged into the water and swam across the lake with the head in his hand.
He had scarcely reached the shore when he saw the Red Head's followers come down with torches in search of him and his wife. He heard their shrieks when they found the headless body, and so lost no time in making his way to the witch's lodge, whither they would not be likely to follow him.
The witch received him with great joy. She told him that he must give her a little piece of the scalp for herself, but he might take the rest home.
He was anxious to return, so she gave him a partridge to offer the spirit of the earth, in case he should meet him on the way.
As White Hawk crossed the prairie, he heard a great rumbling and crackling sound, and the earth split and opened in front of him. He threw the partridge into the crack and it was closed immediately, so that he passed over it in safety.
On reaching home he found that his parents had fasted and mourned for him as dead, for he had been gone a year. Many young men had come to them and had said, "See, I am your son," until when White Hawk did return they would not even look at him.
He threw himself at their feet and told them that he had killed the Red Head. They paid no attention to him, and the young men of the tribe to whom he repeated the story laughed in his face.
He went outside the camp and brought back the head. Then indeed his parents rejoiced, for they knew that he would be admitted at once to the company of warriors for having rid them of so great an enemy. While they all wondered how one who was so lazy could have become so great a brave, he told them why he had acted as he did before he left the village. He was so strong that he had been afraid of breaking things, and so did not dare to touch them. He took hold of some fishing-nets, and as he turned them over in his fingers, they snapped in many places. But now that he was a man his strength would be useful to him and to the tribe. He could clear the forest of fallen trees, and carry some to the streams, where he could throw them so that his people might go from one side to the other in safety. Thereafter he was not known as White Hawk the Lazy, but as "The Strong Man."