Read THE ADVENTURES OF WESAKCHAK of Thirty Indian Legends , free online book, by Margaret Bemister, on ReadCentral.com.

I. THE WONDERFUL BALL

Wesakchak was once the only person living. He found himself floating all alone on the water. Above him was the sky, and all around and about stretched water. He called aloud, but no one answered. Then he noticed a little, dark object floating near him. It was a rat.

“My little brother,” said Wesakchak, “we are all alone in this world of sky and water.”

“Yes,” said the rat. “But I am not afraid, for you are with me. Are you afraid?”

“No,” said Wesakchak, “for the Mighty One will take care of us both. Do you go below and see if you can find any land.”

The rat quickly obeyed Wesakchak and sank down through the water in search of dry land. He was gone a long time, and Wesakchak began to wonder if he were ever coming back. At last he floated up, but he was dead, and in his paws there was a little bit of clay. Wesakchak was very sorry when he saw that his little comrade was dead. He took the clay from the rat’s paws and breathed upon it. Now Wesakchak was greater than a human being; he was really a spirit. So when he breathed upon the clay, it formed itself into a ball and began to grow. He rolled the ball in his hands, and when it grew a little larger, he said a few words over it. At once there came forth a little mouse, who began running around the ball. The mouse was just the color of the earth. Wesakchak said to it, “Your name shall be The Mouse and you shall always live amid the people, and your color shall be the color of the earth.” So to this day we find the mouse in the homes of people, and it always is the same dark gray color.

As the mouse continued running, the ball kept growing. In a few minutes Wesakchak said some more words and out ran a little chipmunk. He began chasing around the ball too, but he could not stay on as well as the mouse. He slipped and nearly fell off several times. Wesakchak caught him and put him safely on again, but in doing so left the marks of his fingers on the chipmunk’s back. And there they have remained ever since, and look like dark brown stripes.

The two little animals kept on running and Wesakchak now brought forth a red squirrel. There was a strong wind blowing, and the squirrel seemed timid. He would run for a little distance and then sit down. The wind would catch his bushy tail and blow it up over his head as he sat there, and so ever afterwards the squirrel curled his tail up when he sat down.

The ball kept growing larger and larger, and Wesakchak brought forth one animal after another. The rabbit, the fox, the wolf, the bear, and all the rest of them came out as they were called, until at last the ball was as big as the earth. Then he called forth the moose, and when it came and saw miles and miles of prairie, it ran for five miles without stopping. To this day the moose, when chased, always runs five miles before it stops.

When Wesakchak had all the animals on the earth, he gave them all their homes. Some were to live in the forests, some among the mountains, and others were to live on the prairies. He made little creeks to flow to divide their feeding-grounds, and they were told not to cross these water lines. The water in the creeks was not clean. It had green slime floating on the top, and reeds and rushes grew thickly amongst it. He made the water this way because he did not wish the animals to drink it. Then he made beautiful, clear rivers flow through the land to be their drinking water. In the rivers he made fish swim, and called all the animals who lived on fish to come and live near the banks of the rivers. In the trees he told the birds to build their nests, and soon all the animals and birds were happy and contented in their homes.

They all loved Wesakchak, for he was so wise and good. He was kind to them all and called them his brothers. He knew the secrets of the animals: why the moose is ungainly and has no flesh on his bones, why the rabbit’s ears are long and have each a little roll of flesh behind it, and why the rat has no hair upon its tail. He understood all the languages of the animals, and each came to him when it was in trouble.

There was one animal who was very smart and clever. He was about the size of the wolf and was called the wolverine. He had beautiful, soft fur, long, straight legs, and firm feet. But he was not liked by the other animals, for he was very conceited. He was always talking about his beautiful fur and his long legs. He would ask the other animals to race with him, because he knew he could always win. Then he would laugh at them for not being able to run as fast as he could. He was always getting into mischief, too, and never seemed happy unless he was playing a trick on some other animal. The other animals often came and told Wesakchak how mean the wolverine was to them. He would tell them to try to be patient, and then he would scold the wolverine for being so unkind. The wolverine would pretend he was very sorry, but the very next day he would do some more mean tricks.

One day he came past the wigwam of Wesakchak. Looking in, he saw that it was empty, and that the Fire Bag, where Wesakchak always kept his steel and flint and his pipe and tobacco-pouch, was hanging on the wall. The wolverine looked around and saw that no one was near, so he sneaked in and grabbed the bag. He ran away through the bush with it until he came to a tall tamarac tree. He climbed the tree and hung the bag on one of the branches. Then he jumped down and ran away, laughing to himself at the trick he had played on Wesakchak.

When Wesakchak returned home, it was nearly evening, and he was tired and hungry. He looked around for his Fire Bag, for he wished to make a fire. The way they got a spark in those days was to strike the steel and flint together; a spark would fly forth and set the dry bark on fire. But Wesakchak could not find his bag. He looked all over the wigwam, still he could not find it. Then he noticed footmarks on the ground near the door. Looking closely, he saw whose they were. “It is that mischief-maker, the wolverine, who has taken my bag,” he said. “I shall go in search of it. And if I meet him, I shall punish him well for all his mischief-making.” He set forth in search of the precious bag. All night he wandered through the forest, but could not find it. When the morning came, he went back to his wigwam and sat down to think what he was to do. “If I had my pipe,” he said to himself, “I would not feel so sad.”

As he sat there, he thought he heard a noise like the wolverine behind his lodge. Going out quickly, he saw the scamp among the trees. Wesakchak followed, but could see nothing more of the animal. He tramped on until he was tired, then turned homewards again.

As he was passing near a tall tree, he looked up, and there was his Fire Bag hanging from one of the highest branches. The tree was smooth and tall, and as Wesakchak began to climb he found himself slipping down very often. Then he would catch hold quickly with his feet and hands. After very hard work he succeeded at last in reaching the bag. Then he slid quickly down the tree. But when he looked up at it, he saw that its bark was hanging in torn pieces where he had caught it with his feet and hands. So, to this day, the tamarac bark hangs in tattered shreds to show that Wesakchak once climbed it.

On the way home he heard the wolverine, who was just trying to sneak away among the bushes.

“Come forth here, brother wolverine,” called Wesakchak. “I want to talk to you.”

The wolverine came out and stood in front of him. He did not look a bit sorry for what he had done.

“You are always getting into mischief,” said Wesakchak. “Now, I am going to punish you for playing so many mean tricks. After this your legs will be very short and crooked, and you will not be able to run as fast as you did before.”

As he said this, the wolverine’s legs grew short and bent, and with an angry growl the animal disappeared among the trees.

II. A WONDERFUL JOURNEY

One day Wesakchak decided to go on a long journey. He knew that somewhere, many miles away, there was a village where people lived, and he made up his mind to go and see them.

The birds all loved Wesakchak, so a great many of them had given him their feathers to make into a suit. When it was finished, it was very beautiful. The vest was of snow-white feathers from the pigeons’ breasts, the coat, of shining blue ones, given by the bluebirds. The leggings were made of black and brown feathers, which the blackbirds and thrushes had gladly sent to him. Around his neck and wrists he put bright yellow feathers, the gift of the canaries. In his hair he wore the eagle’s feathers, for he was a great chief.

He set off early one morning, and as he travelled on, the birds and animals whom he passed all spoke to him. By and by he met a prairie-chicken. In those days the prairie-chicken was a pale gray color.

“Good-morning, brother prairie-chicken,” said Wesakchak. “I have been hearing strange tales about you. The animals tell me that you are very proud of the way that you can startle them.”

“But I only remain still in the grass until they come close to me and then fly up suddenly,” replied the prairie-chicken. “I do not mean to frighten them, but it is great fun to see them jump.”

“That may be so,” said Wesakchak. “But it is not kind of you to fly up in their faces. Then I hear that you are so proud of this, that you call yourself ‘Kee-koo,’ or the Startsome Bird.”

The prairie-chicken did not reply to this, but remained still in the grass.

“Why do you not fly up in front of me?” asked Wesakchak. Still the prairie-chicken did not move or speak. Suddenly Wesakchak leaned down and gathered a handful of little stones.

“Start now,” he said, as he threw them at the chicken. The small pebbles lit on its back and it flew up suddenly. The stones rolled off, but their marks remained, and so after that the prairie-chicken was always speckled.

Wesakchak continued his journey, and late in the afternoon he came to a creek. The water of the little stream was not clean enough to wade through, for green slime floated on the top and reeds grew in its boggy mud. It was rather too wide to jump, but Wesakchak decided to make a running jump and see if he could get across. He ran back a pace on the prairie, then forward to the bank, but the prairie-grass was so long that his feet became entangled, so he went back to start again. He did this two or three times, and at last had the grass packed down enough so that he could make a good run. Then he came forward at a great speed and made a leap. But just as he did so, the prairie-chicken flew up at his feet, and he fell face downwards in the swampy water.

Wesakchak was very vexed, and he called out to the prairie-chicken, “This is a mean trick you have played on me, and in punishment you shall not be able to fly very well after this.” The prairie-chicken heard him and began to fly towards the forest, but its wings seemed shorter than they used to be and it fluttered away amid the tall grass.

As Wesakchak waded out through the reeds, each bent before him, making a path that has remained there ever since. When he reached the shore, it look him a long time to clean his beautiful suit, and by the time he was ready to go on, it was nearly evening. He was anxious to reach the village before nightfall, so he hurried on, wishing he could find some one to take him the rest of the way, for he was feeling tired.

After a time he came in sight of a little lake, and there saw two swans floating on the water. He called to them, but they did not seem to hear, so he jumped into the water and dove down to the bottom. Then he came up under the swans and caught each one by the legs. They flew up with him hanging to their feet.

“Take me to the village that is built on the river bank,” Wesakchak said to them. They did not answer, but flew rapidly through the air.

After they had gone some miles, he noticed they were not taking the right direction. He called to them and told them to turn to the east, but they did not reply. When he saw they were not going to obey, he hung on tightly by one hand, and reaching up, he caught one swan by the neck. He tried to pull its head down so that he could talk to it, but the harder he pulled, the firmer it held its head up, until at last its neck was turned into a curve. He then tried the other swan, but with no more success, so now both birds had their beautiful, white necks curved like the letter S. When Wesakchak saw they would not listen to him, and that they were taking him in the wrong direction, he let go his hold of their feet and dropped like a stone through the air. He landed on a hollow stump, and with such force that he sank deep into the soft wood. Not a sign of him could be seen; he had disappeared entirely. After some time two squaws came to get the soft, yellow wood from the stump. They use this wood to smoke their buckskins, because it gives the skin a nice color. They had brought axes with them to chop down the stump. As they began chopping, they heard a noise like groans coming from within the stump. They were very frightened and thought it was a bear. Just as they were turning to run away Wesakchak called to them.

“It is no bear,” said the first woman. “It is the wise man, Wesakchak, who is coming to visit us.”

“It is, indeed, he,” said the second woman. “We must chop him out.”

So they set to work with their axes, and in a little while had chopped open the stump and set him free. They were overjoyed when they saw it was really Wesakchak whom they had freed, and they took him with them to the village, where all came forth to welcome him.

III. THE GRAY GOOSE

Many years ago, when Wesakchak was the only man upon the earth, there was a being, the Evil Spirit, who did not love him. This spirit was very wicked, and when he saw how much the animals loved Wesakchak, he made up his mind to carry out a cunning scheme, for he wanted to become the master of the animals himself, and it made him very jealous to see how they obeyed Wesakchak.

But the North Wind, when it was passing by his wigwam, heard the Evil Spirit say what he was going to do. The wind passed on, and when it came to the birch-tree, it told her. She told it to her leaves, and they rustled in the wind, as they listened to the terrible plan. “Oh, North Wind,” said the birch-tree, “will you carry my leaves to the wigwam of Wesakchak, and they will tell him of his danger?” So the North Wind took the dried leaves of the birch-tree and carried them many miles, until they reached the wigwam of Wesakchak. There it dropped them at his door.

Wesakchak was sitting by the fire, and he heard the rustling leaves. “Listen!” they said to him, “We have a message for you.” Then they told him of the terrible plan the North Wind had overheard. It was in the spring the Evil Spirit was going to carry out his purpose.

Wesakchak hunted all winter in the forest. When spring came, he was near the edge of the woods one day, and as he stepped out into the prairie, he heard a little rustle at his feet. He looked down and saw some leaves of the birch-tree. “Remember the message we carried to you, O Master,” they said. Wesakchak answered, “Yes, I remember. It is now spring, and I shall go back to my wigwam for my bow and arrows. Then I shall go in search of the Evil Spirit, my enemy.”

The next day Wesakchak left his lodge and travelled over the prairie. Towards nightfall he reached a low valley. He saw that the snow was melting and that some feet of water lay in the valley. But he did not stop for this. He walked on through the water, never resting even when the darkness descended. But when the sun rose next morning, he saw that the plan of the Evil Spirit was being carried out, for all around him lay water. The Evil Spirit had melted the snow during the night, and now every little stream was swollen as big as a river, and the valley was full of water to the brim.

Wesakchak had to swim, and after he had gone some miles, he began to feel very tired. Then the jackfish swam up to him and said, “My Master, get on my back and I shall take you safely to the land.” Wesakchak at once did as he was told, and the jackfish, who was strong and a swift swimmer, soon brought him safely to the dry land.

Then Wesakchak went home to his lodge. It was not far away, and he could see it rising out of the water like an island, for the land on which it was built was a tiny hill. He was very glad to be inside his wigwam and to sit down beside the fire; but as he looked out through the open door, he saw the water rising steadily, and knew that by morning it would be in his lodge, and that he, if no help came, would be drowned.

Wesakchak was very tired, and as he sat there thinking, he fell asleep, and he had a strange dream. He thought Nihka, the wild goose, flew into the wigwam and around and around near the top, napping her wings and crying. She seemed to say, “Give me a message! Give me a message! And I shall save you.” Around and around she flew, and at last lighted in the ashes of the smouldering fire and disappeared.

Then Wesakchak wakened, and as he looked around the wigwam, he knew that Nihka must have been there, for everything had fallen on the floor as if struck by her wings, and the floor of the lodge was covered with ashes. The fire was out, and in the centre of it lay the quill of a goose. Wesakchak picked it up, and saw that a little piece of birch bark was rolled inside. He pulled it out, and as he did so, he heard the honk-honk of a wild goose, and Nihka flew in at the door.

“Write on the birch bark,” she said, “and I shall take it to your friend the beaver.”

Wesakchak did as she told him. He wrote a message on the birch bark and slipped it in the hollow end of the quill. As he gave it to Nihka, he saw that she was no longer white as she had been, but was gray with the ashes of the fire, and marked with black specks where the cinders had touched her. Her breast was still white, and a small patch under her wings.

Nihka took the quill and flew off at once. It was not long before Wesakchak saw the beaver coming to him through the water. When he came close, Wesakchak saw that he carried mud in his paws and on his broad, flat tail. When he reached the door of the lodge, he put the mud down and patted it smooth and hard with his tail. Then he swam away and brought back more, and this he did until he had made a path across the water. Wesakchak had stood watching the beaver as he worked, and now as it was finished, he said:

“Brother Beaver, this is a wonderful bridge you have made for me. How did you learn to do it? Surely the Great Spirit has taught you this, to make a path of land in the midst of the water.”

“Yes, Master,” answered the beaver, “the Great Spirit has taught me how to do this, that you might escape the wicked snares of your enemy. If you cross to the other side, you will be safe.”

“Thank you, Brother Beaver,” said Wesakchak, “I shall do as you say,” and stepping out on the mud bridge, he walked safely to dry land.

Then, in memory of this kindness, Wesakchak told the beaver that from that time he might always build a path across the water to remind his children of what he had done. Then, turning to the goose, he told her that he wished her to wear always her dress of gray and black, so that the world might not forget her loving service.

Each spring, the Evil Spirit, who is the spring flood, grows wild with rage, as he remembers how his plan was spoiled, and he tries to waste the lands of Wesakchak and his children. But this is always in vain, for the Evil One can never win.

IV. LITTLE BROTHER RABBIT

One autumn Wesakchak felt very sad. All through the summer there had been no rain. The prairie grass was burnt brown and dry. The little streams had grown smaller and narrower, until at last not a drop of water was left. The animals, finding no grass to eat and no water to drink, had all gone to the far north-west, where the Great River came down from the mountains. For they knew that along its banks they would find grass to eat. Wesakchak wondered if the Great Spirit were angry with the people of the plains when He sent them these long, hot days and nights. Why did He let the animals go away from them, leaving the hunters no game to kill? The little children were crying for food, and the warriors had grown thin and sad during this summer. And now the fever had come, and in the lodges many sick were lying.

Wesakchak felt that he must do something for his people, so he asked the Great Spirit to show him where the animals lived, so that he might tell his hunters and save the lives of all in the tribe. Then Wesakchak took his canoe and carried it until he came to the Great River. Getting in, he paddled for many days and many nights. He watched all the time, to see if any game came near the banks, but he saw no sign of any.

At last, after he had gone many hundreds of miles, he felt so tired that he knew he must rest. He drew his canoe up to the side of the river and made a lodge from the branches of trees. Here he slept during the night, and when morning came, he arose quite rested. Before he had gone to sleep that night he had noticed that the clouds hung low, and he had wondered if there would be snow in the morning. Now, when he came forth from his lodge, he saw that all the land was white. During the night a heavy fall of soft snow had come, and all the trees and the prairie were covered with it.

Wesakchak was greatly pleased, for this was just what he had hoped for. Now he would be able to see the marks of the animals and trace them to their homes. Going down to the river, he was delighted to find the trail of deer, who had been down for a drink. There were also the marks of the other animals, and now Wesakchak made up his mind to follow these trails and find where the animals were living. He set out, and tramped for many miles. The sun arose and shone on the snow, making everything a dazzling white. But Wesakchak did not mind, and tramped on. At length he knew he was near the place where the animals were living. He took a good look at the trees, so that he could tell the hunters where to find them. Then he turned to hurry back, for he wished to let them know as soon as possible. He tramped on again for a long time, but he did not seem to be getting any nearer to the river. He stopped and looked around. Everything was glistening white, and nowhere could he see a river or a tree. He wondered if he were lost and what he would do, for he knew that if the sick people did not get food soon, they would die. He turned in another direction and travelled for some time. Then stopping, he looked around once more. Again all was glistening white, dazzling his eyes so much that he could see nothing. He knew now that he was snowblind, and felt very sad indeed, for how could he get the news to the hunters in time to save the sick ones, when he could not find the river and his canoe? If only there was something to guide him, some dark object that he could see; but everything was a dazzling whiteness.

Just then he noticed a little, brown object in front of him. As he looked at it, it hopped a few steps ahead and then stopped.

“Oh, Brother Rabbit,” called Wesakchak, “I am so glad to see you. I cannot find the river and I want to get back and tell the hunters where the game is living.”

“Let me guide you,” said the rabbit. “Keep watching me, and you can see my dark fur against the white snow.”

As he said this he hopped away, and Wesakchak, looking only at the little, dark body, was able to follow, till at last they reached the bank of the river. The canoe was there, and Wesakchak stepped in at once, glad that he would now be able to carry the good news to the warriors and hunters. Before he paddled away he turned to the rabbit and said:

“My little Brother Rabbit, you have been very kind to me, indeed, and through your kindness the lives of our tribe will be saved. In return for this your brown fur shall become white as the first snowfall, so that no one will be able to see your body against the snow. In this way you may protect yourself, and people will know how kind the rabbit was to Wesakchak.”

As he spoke, the rabbit’s fur suddenly became pure white, and it looked like a little ball of snow near the bushes. Wesakchak smiled when he saw this and said:

“Your enemies will need to have sharp eyes now, little Brother Rabbit, for you will give them many a long chase over the winter prairies.”

V. THE BALD-HEADED EAGLES

One day Wesakchak was seated at the door of his lodge, when he noticed two eagles circling high in the air above him.

“Come down, my brothers,” he called. “I wish to speak to you.”

The eagles slowly descended, and Wesakchak said, “I wish you to take me on your backs for a ride. This is a very warm day and I know it must be cool high up in the air where you fly.”

“But we are going home to our nests,” replied the eagles. “It is on a very high cliff many miles from here, and you will not care to go there.”

“Yes, I shall,” replied Wesakchak. “I should like to see your nest and your young eaglets. Take me on your backs with you.”

The eagles did not seem very eager to take him, but Wesakchak, without waiting for any more words, jumped on their backs, and they began to mount in the air. Up and up they went, until at last they were as high as the clouds. Wesakchak now began to feel rather cold and asked them to fly lower, but they gave him no answer. On and on they went, and Wesakchak clung tightly to their backs, for he felt very dizzy, being up so high in the air. At last he began to wonder where their nest could be, for he could see no sign of rocks or cliffs of any kind. After what seemed to be hours to him, the eagles began to descend, and in a few minutes they alighted on the top of a very high crag. Wesakchak slipped from their backs and looked around, him. Near him was the nest of the eagles, and in it were the young, crying loudly for food.

Below, Wesakchak could see the ground, which seemed miles away; above him the clouds, which looked low and stormy. The eagles fed their young, and after Wesakchak had waited awhile he said, “Now, my brothers, please take me to my home.”

“You are tired of our cliff?” asked the eagles. “Well, you must go home yourself, for we are not going away for some hours.”

“Oh, I cannot stay here that long,” said Wesakchak. “Besides, I am tired and very hungry, and there is nothing here but bare rock. You must take me home.”

The eagles did not dare to disobey Wesakchak, so they let him mount on their backs. Then they began to fly slowly away. After a while it seemed to him that they were going in the wrong direction. He could see snow-capped mountains, and, as his lodge was built on the prairies, he said:

“My brothers, you are not taking me to my lodge. You are going in the wrong direction. Turn and fly the other way.” But the eagles, instead of answering, only flew more rapidly towards the mountains. Again Wesakchak called to them and again they did not reply. He now saw that they did not intend to take him home, and he began to wonder what he could do.

In a few moments the eagles slowly circled around the top of a mountain from whose summit a large piece of ice was just ready to slip. When the eagles were directly above the ice, they suddenly turned with a jerk and hurled Wesakchak from their backs. Down, down he fell, alighting on the ice, which at once slipped from its place and began to descend the mountain side with terrible rapidity. Wesakchak clung desperately to the icy block, and felt himself going with it and the loose pieces of rock and the small trees which it uprooted on its way. As they came down, the speed became greater, until at last they were bounding over huge stones and across chasms, and with one terrible leap Wesakchak flew through the air and alighted on the ground at the foot of the mountain. Behind them their pathway down the mountain side was marked by a deep ravine cut in the rocky sides of the hill. And around Wesakchak lay ice and stones and uprooted trees.

He lay perfectly still, for he was rendered insensible with the terrible force with which he had fallen. After several hours he opened his eyes, but was too weak to move. He could hear the voices of two wolves near him. One was saying, “He is dead. Let us go and eat him, for I am very hungry.” Then the other wolf answered, “No, he is not dead, and I think he is Wesakchak, for look, see his suit made of the feathers of birds. It is only Wesakchak who has a suit like that.”

Wesakchak heard all this, but he could not move or speak.

As he lay there with his eyes open, he noticed two eagles circling high in the air above him. This aroused him, and he called to the wolves in a faint voice, “My brothers, come near to me.” The wolves seemed surprised, but they came slowly to his side.

“You were arguing a moment ago as to whether I was dead,” said Wesakchak to them. “Now you can see I am not dead, but I wish you to pretend to be eating me, for I want those eagles to come down, and if they think I am dead, they will come so that they can make a meal off me, too.”

The wolves did as he asked them and pretended to be eating him. When the eagles saw this, they hovered lower for a moment or two, then darted down. Wesakchak was lying with his two arms stretched out at full length, and now the eagles began to peck at the palms of his hands. At once he grabbed them by the feathers on their heads.

“Now I have you,” he said. “You shall be punished for playing such a trick as this on me.”

The eagles pulled desperately to try and get away, and Wesakchak clung just as desperately to their heads. At last, with one mighty jerk, they pulled their heads free, but Wesakchak still held the feathers in his hands and their heads were bald.

“This shall be your punishment, then,” said Wesakchak, very sternly. “From this day you and all your race shall have no feathers on your heads, so that every one may know how unkind you have been to Wesakchak.”

And so it has been. From that day the two eagles and all their children have been bald-headed.