IT was in the winter, in the Moon of Difficulty (January). We had eaten our venison roast for supper, and the embers were burning brightly. Our teepee was especially cheerful. Uncheedah sat near the entrance, my uncle and his wife upon the opposite side, while I with my pets occupied the remaining space.
Wabeda, the dog, lay near the fire in a half doze, watching out of the corners of his eyes the tame raccoon, which snuggled back against the walls of the teepee, his shrewd brain, doubtless, concocting some mischief for the hours of darkness. I had already recited a legend of our people. All agreed that I had done well. Having been generously praised, I was eager to earn some more compliments by learning a new one, so I begged my uncle to tell me a story. Musingly he replied:
"I can give you a Sioux-Cree tradition," and immediately began:
"Many winters ago, there were six teepees standing on the southern slope of Moose mountain in the Moon of Wild Cherries (September). The men to whom these teepees belonged had been attacked by the Sioux while hunting buffalo, and nearly all killed. Two or three who managed to get home to tell their sad story were mortally wounded, and died soon afterward. There was only one old man and several small boys left to hunt and provide for this unfortunate little band of women and children.
"They lived upon teepsinna (wild turnips) and berries for many days. They were almost famished for meat. The old man was too feeble to hunt successfully. One day in this desolate camp a young Cree maiden – for such they were – declared that she could no longer sit still and see her people suffer. She took down her dead father's second bow and quiver full of arrows, and begged her old grandmother to accompany her to Lake Wanagiska, where she knew that moose had oftentimes been found. I forgot to tell you that her name was Manitoshaw.
This Manitoshaw and her old grandmother, Nawakewee, took each a pony and went far up into the woods on the side of the mountain. They pitched their wigwam just out of sight of the lake, and hobbled their ponies. Then the old woman said to Manitoshaw:
"'Go, my granddaughter, to the outlet of the Wanagiska, and see if there are any moose tracks there. When I was a young woman, I came here with your father's father, and we pitched our tent near this spot. In the night there came three different moose. Bring me leaves of the birch and cedar twigs; I will make medicine for moose,' she added.
Manitoshaw obediently disappeared in the woods. It was a grove of birch and willow, with two good springs. Down below was a marshy place. Nawakewee had bidden the maiden look for nibbled birch and willow twigs, for the moose loves to eat them, and to have her arrow ready upon the bow-string. I have seen this very place many a time," added my uncle, and this simple remark gave to the story an air of reality.
"The Cree maiden went first to the spring, and there found fresh tracks of the animal she sought. She gathered some cedar berries and chewed them, and rubbed some of them on her garments so that the moose might not scent her. The sun was already set, and she felt she must return to Nawakewee.
"Just then Hinhankaga, the hooting owl, gave his doleful night call. The girl stopped and listened attentively.
"'I thought it was a lover's call,' she whispered to herself. A singular challenge pealed across the lake. She recognized the alarm call of the loon, and fancied that the bird might have caught a glimpse of her game.
"Soon she was within a few paces of the temporary lodge of pine boughs and ferns which the grandmother had constructed. The old woman met her on the trail.
"'Ah, my child, you have returned none too soon. I feared you had ventured too far away; for the Sioux often come to this place to hunt. You must not expose yourself carelessly on the shore.'
"As the two women lay down to sleep they could hear the ponies munch the rich grass in an open spot near by. Through the smoke hole of the pine-bough wigwam Manitoshaw gazed up into the starry sky, and dreamed of what she would do on the morrow when she should surprise the wily moose. Her grandmother was already sleeping so noisily that it was enough to scare away the game. At last the maiden, too, lost herself in sleep.
"Old Nawakewee awoke early. First of all she made a fire and burned cedar and birch so that the moose might not detect the human smell. Then she quickly prepared a meal of wild turnips and berries, and awoke the maiden, who was surprised to see that the sun was already up. She ran down to the spring and hastily splashed handsful of the cold water in her face; then she looked for a moment in its mirror-like surface. There was the reflection of two moose by the open shore and beyond them Manitoshaw seemed to see a young man standing. In another moment all three had disappeared.
"'What is the matter with my eyes? I am not fully awake yet, and I imagine things. Ugh, it is all in my eyes,' the maiden repeated to herself. She hastened back to Nawakewee. The vision was so unexpected and so startling that she could not believe in its truth, and she said nothing to the old woman.
"Breakfast eaten, Manitoshaw threw off her robe and appeared in her scantily cut gown of buckskin with long fringes, and moccasins and leggings trimmed with quills of the porcupine. Her father's bow and quiver were thrown over one shoulder, and the knife dangled from her belt in its handsome sheath. She ran breathlessly along the shore toward the outlet.
"Way off near the island Medoza the loon swam with his mate, occasionally uttering a cry of joy. Here and there the playful Hogan, the trout, sprang gracefully out of the water, in a shower of falling dew. As the maiden hastened along she scared up Wadawasee, the kingfisher, who screamed loudly.
"'Stop, Wadawasee, stop – you will frighten my game!'
"At last she had reached the outlet. She saw at once that the moose had been there during the night. They had torn up the ground and broken birch and willow twigs in a most disorderly way."
"Ah!" I exclaimed, "I wish I had been with Manitoshaw then!"
"Hush, my boy; never interrupt a storyteller."
I took a stick and began to level off the ashes in front of me, and to draw a map of the lake, the outlet, the moose and Manitoshaw. Away off to one side was the solitary wigwam, Nawakewee and the ponies.
"Manitoshaw's heart was beating so loud that she could not hear anything," resumed my uncle. "She took some leaves of the wintergreen and chewed them to calm herself. She did not forget to throw in passing a pinch of pulverized tobacco and paint into the spring for Manitou, the spirit.
"Among the twinkling leaves of the birch her eye was caught by a moving form, and then another. She stood motionless, grasping her heavy bow. The moose, not suspecting any danger, walked leisurely toward the spring. One was a large female moose; the other a yearling.
As they passed Manitoshaw, moving so naturally and looking so harmless, she almost forgot to let fly an arrow. The mother moose seemed to look in her direction, but did not see her. They had fairly passed her hiding-place when she stepped forth and sent a swift arrow into the side of the larger moose. Both dashed into the thick woods, but it was too late. The Cree maiden had already loosened her second arrow. Both fell dead before reaching the shore."
"Uncle, she must have had a splendid aim, for in the woods the many little twigs make an arrow bound off to one side," I interrupted in great excitement.
"Yes, but you must remember she was very near the moose."
"It seems to me, then, uncle, that they must have scented her, for you have told me that they possess the keenest nose of any animal," I persisted.
"Doubtless the wind was blowing the other way. But, nephew, you must let me finish my story.
"Ovedoyed by her success, the maiden hastened back to Nawakawee, but she was gone! The ponies were gone, too, and the wigwam of branches had been demolished. While Manitoshaw stood there, frightened and undecided what to do, a soft voice came from behind a neighboring thicket:
"'Manitoshaw! Manitoshaw! I am here!'
She at once recognized, the voice and found it to be Nawakeewee, who told a strange story. That morning a canoe had crossed the Wanagiska carrying two men. They were Sioux. The old grandmother had seen them coming, and to deceive them she at once pulled down her temporary wigwam, and drove the ponies off toward home. Then she hid herself in the bushes near by, for she knew that Manitoshaw must return there.
"'Come, my granddaughter, we must hasten home by another way,' cried the old woman.
"But the maiden said, 'No, let us go first to my two moose that I killed this morning and take some meat with us.'
"'No, no, my child; the Sioux are cruel. They have killed many of our people. If we stay here they will find us. I fear, I fear them, Manitoshaw!'
"At last the brave maid convinced her grandmother, and the more easily as she too was hungry for meat. They went to where the big game lay among the bushes, and began to dress the moose."
"I think, if I were they, I would hide all day. I would wait until the Sioux had gone; then I would go back to my moose," I interrupted for the third time.
"I will finish the story first; then you may tell us what you would do," said my uncle reprovingly.
"The two Sioux were father and son. They too had come to the lake for moose; but as the game usually retreated to the island, Chatansapa had landed his son Kangiska to hunt them on the shore while he returned in his canoe to intercept their flight. The young man sped along the sandy beach and soon discovered their tracks. He followed them up and found blood on the trail. This astonished him. Cautiously he followed on until he found them both lying dead. He examined them and found that in each moose there was a single Cree arrow. Wishing to surprise the hunter if possible, Kangiska lay hidden in the bushes.
"After a little while the two women returned to the spot. They passed him as close as the moose had passed the maiden in the morning. He saw at once that the maiden had arrows in her quiver like those that had slain the big moose. He lay still.
"Kangiska looked upon the beautiful Cree maiden and loved her. Finally he forgot himself and made a slight motion. Manitoshaw's quick eye caught the little stir among the bushes, but she immediately looked the other way and Kangiska believed that she had not seen anything, At last her eyes met his, and something told both that all was well. Then the maiden smiled, and the young man could not remain still any longer. He arose suddenly and the old woman nearly fainted from fright. But Manitoshaw said:
"'Fear not, grandmother; we are two and he is only one.'
"While the two women continued to cut up the meat, Kangiska made a fire by rubbing cedar chips together, and they all ate of the moose meat. Then the old woman finished her work, while the young people sat down upon a log in the shade, and told each other all their minds.
"Kangiska declared by signs that he would go home with Manitoshaw to the Cree camp, for he loved her. They went home, and the young man hunted for the unfortunate Cree band during the rest of his life.
"His father waited a long time on the island and afterward searched the shore, but never saw him again. He supposed that those footprints he saw were made by Crees who had killed his son."
"Is that story true, uncle?" I asked eagerly.
"'Yes, the facts are well known. There are some Sioux mixed bloods among the Crees to this day who are descendants of Kangiska."