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Two Stories: Dreams and The Chipmunk's Back is Striped

Native American Stories as relayed by Jerry Pope


As soon as manhood is attained, the young Indian must secure his "charm," or "medicine." After a sweat-bath, he retires to some lonely spot, and there, for four days and nights, if necessary, he remains in solitude. During this time he eats nothing; drinks nothing; but spends his time invoking the Great Mystery for the boon of a long life. In this state of mind, he at last sleeps, perhaps dreams. If a dream does not come to him, he abandons the task for a time, and later on will take another sweat-bath and try again. Sometimes dangerous cliffs, or other equally uncomfortable places, are selected for dreaming, because the surrounding terrors impress themselves upon the mind, and even in slumber add to the vividness of dreams.

At last the dream comes, and in it some bird or animal appears as a helper to the dreamer, in trouble. Then he seeks that bird or animal; kills a specimen; and if a bird, he stuffs its skin with moss and forever keeps it near him. If an animal, instead of a bird, appears in the dream, the Indian takes his hide, claws, or teeth; and throughout his life never leaves it behind him, unless in another dream a greater charm is offered. If this happens, he discards the old "medicine" for the new; but such cases are rare.
Sometimes the Indian will deck his "medicine-bundle" with fanciful trinkets and quill-work. At other times the "bundle" is kept forever out of the sight of all uninterested persons, and is altogether unadorned. But "medicine" is necessary; without it, the Indian is afraid of his shadow.

An old chief, who had been in many battles, once told me his great dream, withholding the name of the animal or bird that appeared therein and became his "medicine."
He said that when he was a boy of twelve years, his father, who was chief of his tribe, told him that it was time that he tried to dream. After his sweat-bath, the boy followed his father without speaking, because the postulant must not converse or associate with other humans between the taking of the bath and the finished attempt to dream. On and on into the dark forest the father led, followed by the naked boy, till at last the father stopped on a high hill, at the foot of a giant pinetree.

By signs the father told the boy to climb the tree and to get into an eagle's nest that was on the topmost boughs. Then the old man went away, in order that the boy might reach the nest without coming too close to his human conductor.

Obediently the boy climbed the tree and sat upon the eagle's nest on the top. "I could see very far from that nest," he told me. "The day was warm and I hoped to dream that night, but the wind rocked the tree top, and the darkness made me so much afraid that I did not sleep.

"On the fourth night there came a terrible thunderstorm, with lightning and much wind. The great pine groaned and shook until I was sure it must fall. All about it, equally strong trees went down with loud crashings, and in the dark there were many awful sounds - sounds that I sometimes hear yet. Rain came, and I grew cold and more afraid. I had eaten nothing, of course, and I was weak - so weak and tired, that at last I slept, in the nest. I dreamed; yes, it was a wonderful dream that came to me, and it has most all come to pass. Part is yet to come. But come it surely will.

"First I saw my own people in three wars. Then I saw the Buffalo disappear in a hole in the ground, followed by many of my people. Then I saw the whole world at war, and many flags of white men were in this land of ours. It was a terrible war, and the fighting and the blood made me sick in my dream. Then, last of all, I saw a 'person' coming - coming across what seemed the plains. There were deep shadows all about him as he approached. This 'person' kept beckoning me to come to him, and at last I did go to him.

"'Do you know who I am,' he asked me.

"'No, "person," I do not know you. Who are you, and where is your country?'

"'If you will listen to me, boy, you shall be a great chief and your people shall love you. If you do not listen, then I shall turn against you. My name is "Reason."'

"As the 'person' spoke this last, he struck the ground with a stick he carried, and the blow set the grass afire. I have always tried to know that 'person.' I think I know him wherever he may be, and in any camp. He has helped me all my life, and I shall never turn against him - never."

That was the old chief's dream and now a word about the sweat-bath. A small lodge is made of willows, by bending them and sticking the ends in the ground. A completed sweat-lodge is shaped like an inverted bowl, and in the center is a small hole in the ground. The lodge is covered with robes, bark, and dirt, or anything that will make it reasonably tight. Then a fire is built outside and near the sweat-lodge in which stones are heated. When the stones are ready, the bather crawls inside the sweat-lodge, and an assistant rolls the hot stones from the fire, and into the lodge. They are then rolled into the hole in the lodge and sprinkled with water. One cannot imagine a hotter vapor bath than this system produces, and when the bather has satisfied himself inside, he darts from the sweat-lodge into the river, winter or summer. This treatment killed thousands of Indians when the smallpox was brought to them from Saint Louis, in the early days.

That night in the lodge War Eagle told a queer yarn. I shall modify it somewhat, but in our own sacred history there is a similar tale, well known to all. He said:
"Once, a long time ago, two 'thunders' were travelling in the air. They came over a village of our people, and they stopped to look about.

"In this village there was one fine, painted lodge, and in it there was an old man, an aged woman, and a beautiful young woman with wonderful hair. Of course the 'thunders' could look through the lodge skin and see all that was inside. One of them said to the other: 'Let us marry that young woman, and never tell her about it.'
"'All right,' replied the other 'thunder.' 'I am willing, for she is the finest young woman in all the village. She is good in her heart, and she is honest.'

"So they married her, without telling her about it, and she became the mother of twin boys. When these boys were born, they sat up and told their mother and the other people that they were not people, but were 'thunders,' and that they would grow up quickly.

"'When we shall have been on earth a while, we shall marry, and stay until we each have four sons of our own, then we shall go away and again become "thunders,"' they said.

"It all came to pass, just as they said it would. When they had married good women and each had four sons, they told the people one day that it was time for them to go away forever.

"There was much sorrow among the people, for the twins were good men and taught many good things which we have never forgotten, but everybody knew it had to be as they said. While they lived with us, these twins could heal the sick and tell just what was going to happen on earth.

"One day at noon the twins dressed themselves in their finest clothes and went out to a park in the forest. All the people followed them and saw them lie down on the ground in the park. The people stayed in the timber that grew about the edge of the park, and watched them until clouds and mists gathered about and hid them from view.

"It thundered loudly and the winds blew; trees fell down; and when the mists and clouds cleared away, they were gone - gone forever. But the people have never forgotten them, and my grandfather, who is in the ground near Rocker, was a descendant from one of the sons of the 'thunders.' Ho!"

 The Chipmunk's Back is Striped

~ Jerry Pope

Chipmunk What a splendid lodge it was, and how grand War Eagle looked leaning against his backrest in the firelight! From the tripod that supported the backrest were suspended his weapons and his medicine bundle, each showing the wonderful skill of the maker. The quiver that held the arrows was combined with a case for the bow, and colored quills of the porcupine had been deftly used to make it a thing of beauty. All about the lodge hung the strangely painted linings, and the firelight added richness to both color and design. War Eagle's hair was white, for he had known many snows; but his eyes were keen and bright as a boy's, as he gazed in pride at his grandchildren across the lodge fire. He was wise, and had been in many battles, for his was a warlike tribe. He knew all about the world and the people in it. He was deeply religious, and every Indian child loved him for his goodness and brave deeds.

About the fire were Little Buffalo Calf, a boy of eleven years; Eyes-in-the-Water, his sister, a girl of nine; Fine Bow, a cousin of these, aged ten, and Bluebird, his sister, who was but eight years old.

Not a sound did the children make while the old warrior filled his great pipe, and only the snapping of the lodge fire broke the stillness. Solemnly War Eagle lit the tobacco that had been mixed with the dried inner bark of the red willow, and for several minutes smoked in silence, while the children's eyes grew large with expectancy.

Finally he spoke:

"Napa, OLD-man, is very old indeed. He made this world, and all that is on it. He came out of the south, and travelled toward the north, making the birds and animals as he passed. He made the perfumes for the winds to carry about, and he even made the warpaint for the people to use. He was a busy worker, but a great liar and thief, as I shall show you after I have told you more about him. It was OLD-man who taught the beaver all his cunning. It was OLD-man who told the bear to go to sleep when the snow grew deep in winter, and it was he who made the curlew's bill so long and crooked, although it was not that way at first. OLD-man used to live on this world with the animals and birds. There was no other man or woman then, and he was chief over all the animal people and the bird people. He could speak the language of the robin, knew the words of the bear, and understood the sign talk of the beaver, too. He lived with the wolves, for they are the great hunters. Even today we make the same sign for a smart man as we make for the wolf; so you see he taught them much while he lived with them. OLD-man made a great many mistakes in making things, as I shall show you after a while; yet he worked until he had everything good. But he often made great mischief and taught many wicked things. These I shall tell you about some day. Everybody was afraid of OLD-man and his tricks and lies - even the animal people, before he made men and women. He used to visit the lodges of our people and make trouble long ago, but he got so wicked that Manitou grew angry at him, and one day in the month of roses, he built a lodge for OLD-man and told him that he must stay in it forever. Of course he had to do that, and nobody knows where the lodge was built, nor in what country, but that is why we never see him as our grandfathers did, long, long ago.

"What I shall tell you now happened when the world was young. It was a fine summer day, and OLD-man was traveling in the forest. He was going north and straight as an arrow - looking at nothing, hearing nothing. No one knows what he was after, to this day. The birds and forest people spoke politely to him as he passed but he answered none of them. The Pine squirrel, who is always trying to find out other people's business, asked him where he was going, but OLD-man wouldn't tell him. The woodpecker hammered on a dead tree to make him look that way, but he wouldn't. The Elk people and the Deer people saw him pass, and all said that he must be up to some mischief or he would stop and talk a while. The pine trees murmured, and the bushes whispered their greeting, but he kept his eyes straight ahead and went on traveling.

"The sun was low when OLD-man heard a groan" (here War Eagle groaned to show the children how it sounded), "and turning about he saw a warrior lying bruised and bleeding near a spring of cold water. OLD-man knelt beside the man and asked: 'Is there war in this country? '

"'Yes,' answered the man. 'This whole day long we have fought to kill a Person, but we have all been killed, I am afraid.'

"'That is strange,' said OLD-man; 'how can one Person kill so many men? Who is this Person, tell me his name!' but the man didn't answer - he was dead. When OLD-man saw that life had left the wounded man, he drank from the spring, and went on toward the north, but before long he heard a noise as of men fighting, and he stopped to look and listen. Finally he saw the bushes bend and sway near a creek that flowed through the forest. He crawled toward the spot, and peering through the brush saw a great Person near a pile of dead men, with his back against a pine tree. The Person was full of arrows, and he was pulling them from his ugly body. Calmly the Person broke the shafts of the arrows, tossed them aside, and stopped the blood flow with a brush of his hairy hand. His head was large and fierce looking, and his eyes were small and wicked. His great body was larger than that of a buffalo bull and covered with scars of many battles.

"OLD-man went to the creek, and with his buffalo-horn cup brought some water to the Person, asking as he approached:

"'Who are you, Person? Tell me, so I can make you a fine present, for you are great in war.'

"'I am Bad Sickness,' replied the Person. 'Tribes I have met remember me and always will, for their bravest warriors are afraid when I make war upon them. I come in the night or I visit their camps in daylight. It is always the same; they are frightened and I kill them easily.'

" 'Ho!' said OLD-man, 'tell me how to make Bad Sickness, for I often go to war myself.' He lied; for he was never in a battle in his life. The Person shook his ugly head and then OLD-man said:

" 'If you will tell me how to make Bad Sickness I will make you small and handsome. When you are big, as you now are, it is very hard to make a living; but when you are small, little food will make you fat. Your living will be easy because I will make your food grow everywhere.'

"'Good,' said the Person, 'I will do it; you must kill the fawns of the deer and the calves of the elk when they first begin to live. When you have killed enough of them you must make a robe of their skins. Whenever you wear that robe and sing - "now you sicken, now you sicken," the sickness will come- that is all there is to it. '

"'Good,' said OLD-man, 'now lie down to sleep and I will do as I promised.'

"The Person went to sleep and OLD-man breathed upon him until he grew so tiny that he laughed to see how small he had made him. Then he took out his paint sack and striped the Person's back with black and yellow. It looked bright and handsome and he waked the Person, who was now a tiny animal with a bushy tail to make him pretty.
"'Now,' said OLD-man, 'you are the Chipmunk, and must always wear those striped clothes. All of your children and their children, must wear them, too.'
"After the Chipmunk had looked at himself, and thanked OLD-man for his new clothes, he wanted to know how he could make his living, and OLD-man told him what to eat, and said he must cache the pine nuts when the leaves turned yellow, so he would not have to work in the winter time.

"'You are a cousin to the Pine squirrel,' said OLD-man, 'and you will hunt and hide as he does. You will be spry and your living will be easy to make if you do as I have told you.'
"He taught the Chipmunk his language and his signs, showed him where to live, and then left him, going on toward the north again. He kept looking for the cow elk and doe deer, and it was not long before he had killed enough of their young to make the robe as the Person told him, for they were plentiful before the white man came to live on the world. He found a shady place near a creek, and there made the robe that would make Bad Sickness whenever he sang the queer song, but the robe was plain, and brown in color. He didn't like the looks of it. Suddenly he thought how nice the back of the Chipmunk looked after he had striped it with his paints. He got out his old paint sack and with the same colors made the robe look very much like the clothes of the Chipmunk. He was proud of the work, and liked the new robe better; but being lazy, he wanted to save himself work, so he sent the Southwind to tell all the doedeer and the cow elk to come to him. They came as soon as they received the message, for they were afraid of OLD-man and always tried to please him. When they had all reached the place where OLD-man was he said to them:

"'Do you see this robe?'

"'Yes, we see it,' they replied.

"'Well, I have made it from the skins of your children, and then painted it to look like the Chipmunk's back, for I like the looks of that Person's clothes. I shall need many more of these robes during my life; and every time I make one, I don't want to have to spend my time painting it; so from now on and forever your children shall be born in spotted clothes. I want it to be that way to save me work. On all the fawns there must be spots of white like this (here he pointed to the spots on Bad Sickness's robe) and on all of the elk calves the spots shall not be so white and shall be in rows and look rather yellow.' Again he showed them his robe, that they might see just what he wanted.
"'Remember,' he said, 'after this I don't want to see any of your children running about wearing plain clothing, because that would mean more painting for me. Now go away, and remember what I have said, lest I make you sick. '

"The cow elk and the doe deer were glad to know that their children's clothes would be beautiful, and they went away to their little ones who were hidden in the tall grass, where the wolves and mountain lions would have a hard time finding them; for you know that in the tracks of the fawn there is no scent, and the wolf cannot trail him when he is alone. That is the way Manitou takes care of the weak, and all of the forest people know about it, too.

"Now you know why the Chipmunk's back is striped, and why the fawn and elk calf wear their pretty clothes.

"I hear the owls, and it is time for all young men who will some day be great warriors to go to bed, and for all young women to seek rest, lest beauty go away forever. Ho!"