Indian Boyhood

by Ohiyesa (Charles A. Eastman)

Family Traditions

II: The Stone Boy

"Ho, mita koda!" (welcome, friend!) was Smoky Day's greeting, as I entered his lodge on the third day. "I hope you did not dream of a watery combat with the Ojibways, after the history I repeated to you yesterday," the old sage continued, with a complaisant smile playing upon his face.

"No," I said, meekly, "but, on the other hand, I have wished that the sun might travel a little faster, so that I could come for another story."

"Well, this time I will tell you one of the kind we call myths or fairy stories. They are about men and women who do wonderful things – things that ordinary people cannot do at all. Sometimes they are not exactly human beings, for they partake of the nature of men and beasts, or of men and gods. I tell you this beforehand, so that you may not ask any questions, or be puzzled by the inconsistency of the actors in these old stories.

"Once there were ten brothers who lived with their only sister, a young maiden of sixteen summers. She was very skilful at her embroidery, and her brothers all had beautifully worked quivers and bows embossed with porcupine quills. They loved and were kind to her, and the maiden in her turn loved her brothers dearly, and was content with her position as their housekeeper. They were great hunters, and scarcely ever remained at home during the day, but when they returned at evening they would relate to her all their adventures.

"One night they came home one by one with their game, as usual, all but the eldest, who did not return. It was supposed by the other brothers that he had pursued a deer too far from the lodge, or perhaps shot more game than he could well carry; but the sister had a presentiment that something dreadful had befallen him. She was partially consoled by the second brother, who offered to find the lost one in the morning.

"Accordingly, he went in search of him, while the rest set out on the hunt as usual. Toward evening all had returned safely, save the brother who went in search of the absent. Again, the next older brother went to look for the others, and he too returned no more. All the young men disappeared one by one in this manner, leaving their sister alone.

"The maiden's sorrow was very great. She wandered everywhere, weeping and looking for her brothers, but found no trace of them. One day she was walking beside a beautiful little stream, whose clear waters went laughing and singing on their way. She could see the gleaming pebbles at the bottom, and one in particular seemed so lovely to her tear-bedimmed eyes, that she stooped and picked it up, dropping it within her skin garment into her bosom. For the first time since her misfortunes she had forgotten herself and her sorrow.

"At last she went home, much happier than she had been, though she could not have told the reason why. On the following day she sought again the place where she had found the pebble, and this time she fell asleep on the banks of the stream, When she awoke, there lay a beautiful babe in her bosom.

"She took it up and kissed it many times. And the child was a boy, but it was heavy like a stone, so she called him a 'Little Stone Boy.' The maiden cried no more, for she was very happy with her baby. The child was unusually knowing, and walked almost from its birth.

"One day Stone Boy discovered the bow and arrows of one of his uncles, and desired to have them; but his mother cried, and said:

"'Wait, my son, until you are a young man.' "She made him some little ones, and with these he soon learned to hunt, and killed small game enough to support them both. When he had grown to be a big boy, he insisted upon knowing whose were the ten bows that still hung upon the walls of his mother's lodge.

"At last she was obliged to tell him the sad story of her loss.

"'Mother, I shall go in search of my uncles,' exclaimed the Stone Boy.

"'But you will be lost like them,' she replied, 'and then I shall die of grief.'

"'No, I shall not be lost. I shall bring your ten brothers back to you. Look, I will give you a sign. I will take a pillow, and place it upon end. Watch this, for as long as I am living the pillow will stay as I put it. Mother, give me some food and some moccasins with which to travel!'

"Taking the bow of one of his uncles, with its quiver full of arrows, the Stone Boy departed. As he journeyed through the forest he spoke to every animal he met, asking for news of his lost uncles. Sometimes he called to them at the top of his voice. Once he thought he heard an answer, so he walked in the direction of the sound. But it was only a great grizzly bear who had wantonly mimicked the boy's call. Then Stone Boy was greatly provoked.

"'Was it you who answered my call, you longface?' he exclaimed.

"Upon this the latter growled and said:

"'You had better be careful how you address me, or you may be sorry for what you say!'

"'Who cares for you, you red-eyes, you ugly thing!' the boy replied; whereupon the grizzly immediately set upon him.

"But the boy's flesh became as hard as stone, and the bear's great teeth and claws made no impression upon it. Then he was so dreadfully heavy; and he kept laughing all the time as if he were being tickled, which greatly aggravated the bear. Finally Stone Boy pushed him aside and sent an arrow to his heart.

"He walked on for some distance until he came to a huge fallen pine tree, which had evidently been killed by lightning. The ground near by bore marks of a struggle, and Stone Boy picked up several arrows exactly like those of his uncles, which he himself carried.

"While he was examining these things, he heard a sound like that of a whirlwind, far up in the heavens. He looked up and saw a black speck which grew rapidly larger until it became a dense cloud. Out of it came a flash and then a thunderbolt. The boy was obliged to wink; and when he opened his eyes, behold! a stately man stood before him and challenged him to single combat.

"Stone Boy accepted the challenge and they grappled with one another. The man from the clouds was gigantic in stature and very powerful. But Stone Boy was both strong and unnaturally heavy and hard to hold. The great warrior from the sky sweated from his exertions, and there came a heavy shower. Again and again the lightnings flashed about them as the two struggled there. At last Stone Boy threw his opponent, who lay motionless. There was a murmuring sound throughout the heavens and the clouds rolled swiftly away.

"'Now,' thought the hero, 'this man must have slain all my uncles. I shall go to his home and find out what has become of them.' With this he unfastened from the dead man's scalp-lock a beautiful bit of scarlet down. He breathed gently upon it, and as it floated upward he followed into the blue heavens.

"Away went Stone Boy to the country of the Thunder Birds. It was a beautiful land, with lakes, rivers, plains and mountains. The young adventurer found himself looking down from the top of a high mountain, and the country appeared to be very populous, for he saw lodges all about him as far as the eye could reach. He particularly noticed a majestic tree which towered above all the others, and in its bushy top bore an enormous nest. Stone Boy descended from the mountain and soon arrived at the foot of the tree; but there were no limbs except those at the top and it was so tall that he did not attempt to climb it. He simply took out his bit of down, breathed upon it and floated gently upward.

"When he was able to look into the nest he saw there innumerable eggs of various sizes, and all of a remarkable red color. He was nothing but a boy after all, and had all a boy's curiosity and recklessness. As he was handling the eggs carelessly, his notice was attracted to a sudden confusion in the little village below. All of the people seemed to be running toward the tree. He mischievously threw an egg at them, and in the instant that it broke he saw one of the men drop dead. Then all began to cry out pitifully, 'Give me my heart!'

"'Ah,' exclaimed Stone Boy, exulting,' so these are the hearts of the people who destroyed my uncles! I shall break them all!'

"And he really did break all of the eggs but four small ones which he took in his hand. Then he descended the tree, and wandered among the silent and deserted lodges in search of some trace of his lost uncles. He found four little boys, the sole survivors of their race, and these he commanded to tell him where their bones were laid.

"They showed him the spot where a heap of bones was bleaching on the ground. Then he bade one of the boys bring wood, a second water, a third stones, and the fourth he sent to cut willow wands for the sweat lodge. They obeyed, and Stone Boy built the lodge, made a fire, heated the stones and collected within the lodge all the bones of his ten uncles.

"As he poured the water upon the hot stones faint sounds could be heard from within the magic bath. These changed to the murmuring of voices, and finally to the singing of medicine songs. Stone Boy opened the door and his ten uncles came forth in the flesh, thanking him and blessing him for restoring them to life. Only the little finger of the youngest uncle was missing. Stone Boy now heartlessly broke the four remaining eggs, and took the little finger of the largest boy to supply the missing bone.

"They all returned to earth again and Stone Boy conducted his uncles to his mother's lodge. She had never slept during his entire absence, but watched incessantly the pillow upon which her boy was wont to rest his head, and by which she was to know of his safety. Going a little in advance of the others, he suddenly rushed forward into her teepee, exclaiming: 'Mother, your ten brothers are coming – prepare a feast!'

"For some time after this they all lived happily together. Stone Boy occupied himself with solitary hunting. He was particularly fond of hunting the fiercer wild animals. He killed them wantonly and brought home only the ears, teeth and claws as his spoil, and with these he played as he laughingly recounted his exploits. His mother and uncles protested, and begged him at least to spare the lives of those animals held sacred by the Dakotas, but Stone Boy relied upon his supernatural powers to protect him from harm.

"One evening, however, he was noticeably silent and upon being pressed to give the reason, replied as follows:

"'For some days past I have heard the animals talking of a conspiracy against us. I was going west the other morning when I heard a crier announcing a general war upon Stone Boy and his people. The crier was a Buffalo, going at full speed from west to east. Again, I heard the Beaver conversing with the Musk-rat, and both said that their services were already promised to overflow the lakes and rivers and cause a destructive flood. I heard, also, the little Swallow holding a secret council with all the birds of the air. He said that he had been appointed a messenger to the Thunder Birds, and that at a certain signal the doors of the sky would be opened and rains descend to drown Stone Boy. Old Badger and the Grizzly Bear are appointed to burrow underneath our fortifications.

"'However, I am not at all afraid for myself, but I am anxious for you, Mother, and for my uncles.'

"'Ugh!' grunted all the uncles, 'we told you that you would get into trouble by killing so many of our sacred animals for your own amusement.

"'But,' continued Stone Boy, 'I shall make a good resistance, and I expect you all to help me.'

"Accordingly they all worked under his direction in preparing for the defence. First of all, he threw a pebble into the air, and behold a great rocky wall around their teepee. A second, third, fourth and fifth pebble became other walls without the first. From the sixth and seventh were formed two stone lodges, one upon the other. The uncles. meantime, made numbers of bows and quivers full of arrows, which were ranged at convenient distances along the tops of the walls. His mother prepared great quantities of food and made many moccasins for her boy, who declared that he would defend the fortress alone.

"At last they saw the army of beasts advancing, each tribe by itself and commanded by a leader of extraordinary size. The onset was terrific. They flung themselves against the high walls with savage cries, while the badgers and other burrowing animals ceaselessly worked to undermine them. Stone Boy aimed his sharp arrows with such deadly effect that his enemies fell by thousands. So great was their loss that the dead bodies of the animals formed a barrier higher than the first, and the armies retired in confusion.

"But reinforcements were at hand. The rain fell in torrents; the beavers had dammed all the rivers and there was a great flood. The besieged all retreated into the innermost lodge, but the water poured in through the burrows made by the badgers and gophers, and rose until Stone Boy's mother and his ten uncles were all drowned. Stone Boy himself could not be entirely destroyed, but he was overcome by his enemies and left half buried in the earth, condemned never to walk again, and there we find him to this day.

"This was because he abused his strength, and destroyed for mere amusement the lives of the creatures given him for use only."

Next Chapter: Evening in the Lodge

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