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The Scent of the Skunk

A Native American Folk Tale

The skunk was once a larger animal than he is now, he was as large as a hill. But he became smaller and smaller and this caused him to worry.

"If I grow smaller and smaller," he said, "I will lose my strength. Then how can I hunt, and kill my game, and make my living?"

And so he thought and thought.

"I know," he said. "I will make a strong hunting medicine which will give me skill even when I am not so large as now."

He hunted and hunted to find all the plants as he could grasp in his hand, he took them home. He ground them up very, very fine, like a powder. Then, when this medicine was all prepared, he placed it in a little pouch that he carried with him wherever he went.

Then he said, "I will test my medicine against the biggest, strongest thing I can find."

He looked around, and there he saw a large oak tree; nothing could be bigger or stronger than this tree, and decided to test his medicine against it.

He took some powder out of his pouch - only a pinch of the powder was needed - and put it in some water, and drank it. Then, to make still more powerful medicine, he sang, "Who is going out hunting, for I go out to hunt?"

Then the skunk shot at the oak tree - not with an arrow, but with this medicine, a foul-smelling liquid - and the tree shrank away and died, and looked as if it were burned. Nothing was left but a pile of ashes.

The hunting medicine made by that skunk was the same as that the skunk carries today.

Loo-Wit, The Fire-Keeper Creek (Nisqually)

When the world was young, the Creator gave everyone all that was needed to be happy.

The weather was always pleasant. There was food for everyone and room for all the people. Despite this, though, two brothers began to quarrel over the land. Each wanted to control it. It reached the point where each brother gathered together a group of men to support his claim. Soon it appeared there would be war.

The Creator saw this and was not pleased. He waited until the two brothers were asleep one night and then carried them off to a new country, There a beautiful river flowed and tall mountains rose into the clouds. He woke them just as the sun rose and they looked out from the mountaintop to the land below. They saw what a good place it was. It made their hearts good.

"Now," the Creator said, "this will be your land." Then he gave each of the brothers a bow and a single arrow. "Shoot your arrow into the air," the Creator said. "Where your arrow falls will be the land of you and your people, and you shall be a great chief there."

The brothers did as they were told. The older brother shot his arrow. It arched over the river and landed to the south in the valley of the Willamette River. There is where he and his people went, and they became the Multnomahs. The younger brother shot his arrow. It flew to the north of the great river. He and his people went there and became the Klickitats.

Then the Creator made a Great Stone Bridge across the river. "This bridge," the Creator said, "is a sign of peace. You and your peoples can visit each other by crossing over this bridge. As long as you remain at peace, as long as your hearts are good, this bridge will stand."

For many seasons the two peoples remained at peace. They passed freely back and forth across the Great Stone Bridge. One day, though, the people to the north looked south toward the Willamette and said, "Their lands are better than ours." One day, though, the people to the south looked north toward the Klickitat and said, "Their lands are more beautiful than ours." Then, once again, the people began to quarrel.

The Creator saw this and was not pleased.

The people were becoming greedy again. Their hearts were becoming bad. The Creator darkened the skies and took fire away. Now th people grew cold. The rains of autumn began and the people suffered greatly.

"Give us back fire," they begged. "We wish to live again with each other in peace."

Their prayers reached theCreator's heart. There was only one place on Earth where fire still remained. An old woman named Loo-Wit had stayed out of the quarrelling and was not greedy. It was in her lodge only that fire still burned. So the Creator went to Loo-Wit.

"I want to be young and beautiful," Loo-Wit said.

"That is the way it will be," said the Creator. "Now take your fire to the Great Stone Bridge above the river. Let all the people come to you and get fire. You must keep the fire burning there to remind people that their hearts must stay good.

The next morning, the skies grew clear and the people saw the sun rise for the first time in many days, The sun shone on the Great Stone Bridge and there the people saw a young woman as beautiful as the sunshine itself. Before her, there on the bridge, burned a fire. The people came to the fire and ended their quarrels. Loo-Wit gave each of them fire. Now their homes again became warm and peace was everywhere.

One day, though, the chief of the people to the north came to Loo-Wit's fire. He saw how beautiful she was and wanted her to be his wife. At the same time, the chief of the people to the south also saw Loo-Wit's beauty. He, too, wanted to marry her. Loo-Wit could not decide which of the two she liked better. Then the chiefs began to quarrel. Their peoples took up the quarrel and fighting began.

When the Creator saw the fighting he became angry. He broke down the Great Stone Bridge. He took each of the two chiefs and changed them into mountains. The chief of the Klickitats became the mountain we know as Mount Adams. The chief of the Multnomahs became the mountain we know as Mount Hood. Even as mountains, they continued to quarrel, throwing flames and stones at each other. In some places, the stones they threw almost blocked the river between them. That is why the Columbia River is so narrow in the place called the Dalles today.

Loo-Wit was heartbroken over the pain caused by her beauty. She no longer wanted to be a beautiful young woman. She could no longer find peace as a human being. The Creator took pity on her and changed her into a mountain also, the most beautiful of the mountains. She was placed so that she stood between Mount Adams and Mount Hood, and she was allowed to keep the fire within herself which she had once shared on the Great Stone Bridge. Eventually, she became known as Mount St. Helens and she slept peacefully.

Though she was asleep, Loo-Wit was still aware, the people said. The Creator had placed her between the two quarreling mountains to keep the peace, and it was intended that humans, too, should look ar her beauty and remember to keep their hearts good, to share the land and treat it well. If we human beings do not treat the land with respect, the people said, Loo-Wit will wake up and let us know how unhappy she and the Creator have become again. So they said long before the day in the 1980's when Mount St. Helen's woke again.

How the Beaver Got His Flat Tail

Once there was an old man named Tohonakerate. He made crafts for his tribe. He made sweet grass baskets, moccasins and pouches, sometimes with beads on it. Everybody in his tribe liked his crafts.

There was a person that nobody liked, and that was a little beaver. No one liked him because he was to clever for everybody. Especially Tohonakerate. Tohonakerate hated him so he named him Little Cleverone. Little Cleverone liked to do tricks on Tohonakerate because he was so old and was so easy to trick.

One day while Tohonakerate was making a leather pouch, Little Cleverone went to Tohonakerate's house and said, "Hey, buddy, what are you making?"

"Oh, not you again. If your thinking of pulling another trick, I'm not going to fall for it you know." said Tohonakerate.

"You always think that I'm going to pull a trick, but most of the time I don't because I know that you're getting so old so I don't do it. Not!" said Little Cleverone with a laugh.

"Well what are you going to do?" asked Tohonakerate.

"You'll see Tohonakerate." Said Little Cleverone with a little chuckle. The next day Tohonakerate was taking a walk when all of a sudden Little Cleverone jumped out in front of him from out of nowhere. And scared the daylights out of Tohonakerate and almost gave him a heart attack but Tohonakerate did faint and Little Cleverone thought he had killed him. So little Cleverone ran away.

Then a young little girl came and tried to wake up Tohonakerate but he wouldn't wake up so she thought that he just fainted so she went to get a wet paper towel. She poured the water on his face to wake him up. because that young little girl thought right! When Tohonakerate woke up he was scared at first Nikatsitensera:because he didn't know who she was. He asked her what her name was and she said it was, Nikatsitensera.

Tohonakerate started to like Nikatsitensera for a friend and he taught her how to make some of his crafts. Tohonakerate said to Nikatsitensera, "When I die I will leave my crafts for you to do but just watch out for Little Cleverone he'd do anything to get rid of you." Everybody knew about Little Cleverone so Tohonakerate didn't have to explain.

Tohonakerate and Nikatsitensera went to get some leather for some moccasins. Little Cleverone jumped in front of Tohonakerate and this time he gave Tohonakerate a heart attack and he died.

Nikatsitensera started to cry and said to Little Cleverone, "I'll get you back you'll see."

She ran to the village (where she lived) and said to the villagers, "Little Cleverone has killed Tohonakerate. Everybody, you don't have to go kill him because I have a plan." Everybody was mad at Little Cleverone that he hid in his house. All the beavers had big puffy tails that had X's on it so Nikatsitensera wanted to flatten his tail.

She went to his house and asked if he'd come out and talk about what he had done. But he wouldn't come out even if she asked nicely. So she dragged him out. She got a hammer and she hit Little Cleverone's tail with the hammer. His tail went flat and she told him to chop down trees instead of kill people. So now that is why all beavers have flat tails.

Big Long Man's Corn Patch

A Native American Tale

As soon as Big Long Man got back from the mountains he went to his garden to admire his corn and melons. He had planted a big crop for the coming winter. When he saw that half of the corn stalks had been shucked and the ears stolen, and that the biggest melons were gone off of the melon vines, he was very angry.

"Who stole my corn and melons?" he muttered to himself. "I'll catch the thief, whoever he is."

He began to scheme. The next day he built a fence around the garden. But the fence did no good. Each morning Big Long Man found more corn stalks stripped.

At last he thought up a scheme to catch the thief. He gathered a great ball of pine pitch and molded it into the shape of a man. He set the figure up in the corn field and then went to his hogan.

That night Skunk came along to get a bit of corn for his dinner. He had heard from Badger that Big Long Man was away in the mountains. He squeezed his body under the fence and waddled up to a clump of corn. He was just about to shuck a fat ear when he noticed a man standing by the fence. Skunk let go of the ear of corn in fright. He could see in the moonlight that the man was not Big Long Man. He waddled over to the fence and spoke to the figure.

"Who are you, in Big Long Man's corn patch?'' asked Skunk.

The figure did not answer.

"Who are you?" said Skunk again, moving closer.

The figure did not answer.

"Speak!" said Skunk boldly, "or I will punch you! "

The figure did not say a word. It did not move an inch.

"Tell me who you are," said Skunk a fourth time, raising his fist, "or I will punch you!"

The figure said not a word. It was very quiet in the moonlit corn field. Even the wind had gone away.

Plup went Skunk's fist into the pine gum face. It sunk into the soft pitch, which is as sticky as glue, and there it stuck. Skunk pulled and pulled.

"If you don't let go my hand," he shouted, "I will hit you harder with my left hand."

But the pine pitch held tight.

Plup went Skunk's left hand. Now both hands stuck fast.

"Let go my hands, or I will kick you," cried Skunk, who was by this time getting mad.

The pine gum man did not let go.

Plup, Skunk gave a mighty kick with his right foot. The foot stuck too, just like the hands.

"I will kick you harder," said Skunk and Plup he kicked with all of his strength with his left foot. Pine gum man held that foot too. Skunk struggled but he could not get loose. Now he was in a fine plight. Every limb was held tight. He had only one more weapon, his teeth.

"I will bite your throat," he shouted and he dug his teeth into the pine gum throat.

"Ugh!" he gurgled for he could no longer say a word. His tongue and teeth were held fast in the pine pitch.

The next morning Big Long Man came to his corn patch and there was Skunk stuck onto the pine gum man. Only his tail was free, waving behind him.

"Ah!" said Big Long Man. "So it's you, Skunk, who has been stealing my corn."

"Ugh," replied Skunk. His mouth full of pine pitch.

Big Long Man pulled him away from the gum figure, tied a rope around his neck and led him to his hogan. He put a great pot of water on the stove to boil, then he took the rope off of Skunk's neck.

"Now, Skunk," he said, "go fetch wood."

Skunk went out into the back yard. Just then Fox happened to pass by. He was on his way to Big Long Man's corn patch. Skunk began to cry loudly. Fox stopped running, and pricked up his sharp ears.

"Who is crying?" he said.

"I am crying," said Skunk.

"Why?" said Fox.

"Because I have to carry wood for Big Long Man. He gives me all of the corn I want to eat, but I do not want to carry wood."

Fox was hungry. He knew that if he stole corn he was liable to get caught. "What an easy way to get corn," he thought. "I would not mind carrying wood."

Out loud he said, "Cousin, let us change places. You go home and I will carry wood for Big Long Man. I like the job. Besides, I was just on my way to steal an ear of corn down at the field."

"All right," said Skunk. "But don't eat too much corn. I have a stomach ache." He felt his fat stomach and groaned. Then he waddled happily away. Fox gathered up an armful of piñon wood. He hurried into Big Long Man's hogan. Big Long Man looked at him in surprise.

"Well, well, Skunk, you changed into a fox, did you? That's funny."

Fox did not say a word. He was afraid he might say the wrong thing and not get any corn to eat. Big Long Man took the rope which had been around Skunk's neck and tied it around Fox's neck.

Fox sat down and waited patiently. Soon the water in the big pot began to bubble and steam. At last Fox said, "Isn't the corn cooked yet, Big Long Man?"

"Corn?" asked Big Long Man. "What corn?"

"Why the corn you are cooking for me," said Fox. "Skunk said you would feed me all of the corn I could eat if I carried wood for you."

"The rascal," said Big Long Man. "He tricked you and he tricked me. Well, Fox, you will have to pay for this." So saying he picked up Fox by the ears and set him down in the boiling water. It was so hot that it took off every hair on his body. Big Long Man left him in the pot for a minute and then he pulled him out by the ears and set him free out of doors.

"Don't be thinking you will ever get any of my corn by tricks," said Big Long Man.

Fox ran yelping toward his den. He was sore all over. Half way home he passed Red Monument. Red Monument is a tall slab of red sand stone that stands alone in a valley. On top of the rock sat Raven eating corn that he had stolen from the corn patch. At the bottom was Coyote holding on to the rock with his paws. He was watching for Raven to drop a few kernels. He glanced behind him when Fox appeared. He did not let go of the rock, however, because he thought Fox might get his place. He was surprised at Fox's appearance.

"Where is your fur, Fox?" he asked over his shoulder.

"I ate too much corn," said Fox sadly. "Don't ever eat too much corn, Coyote. It is very painful." Fox held his stomach and groaned. "Corn is very bad for one's fur. It ruined mine."

"But where did you get so much corn, cousin?" asked Coyote, still holding on to the rock.

"Didn't you hear?" asked Fox. "Why, Big Long Man is giving corn to all the animals who carry wood for him. He will give you all you can eat and more too. Just gather an armful of piñon sticks and walk right into his hogan."

Coyote thought a moment. He was greedy. He decided to go to Big Long Man's hogan but he did not want Fox to go with him. He wanted everything for himself.

"Cousin," he said, "will you do me a favor? Will you hold this rock while I go and get a bite of corn from Big Long Man? I am very hungry and I do not dare leave this rock. It will fall and kill somebody."

"All right," said Fox, smiling to himself. "I will hold the rock. But do not eat too much." He placed his paws on the back side of the rock and Coyote let go. The next minute Coyote was running away as fast as he could toward Big Long Man's hogan. Fox laughed to himself, but after a bit he became tired of holding the rock. He decided to let it fall.

"Look out, Cousin Raven," he shouted. "The rock is going to fall." Fox let go, and jumped far away. Then he ran and did not look behind. He was afraid the rock would hit his tail. If Fox had looked behind him he would have seen the rock standing as steady as a mountain.

Presently, along came Coyote, back from Big Long Man's hogan. He was running at top speed and yowling fearfully. There was not a hair left on his body. When he came to Red Monument he saw Raven still sitting on his high perch nibbling kernels of corn.

"Where has Fox gone?" howled Coyote who was in a rage.

Raven looked down at Coyote. "Fox?" he said. "Why, Fox went home, I suppose. What did you do with your hair, Coyote?"

Coyote didn't answer. He just sat down by the foot of the rock and with his snout up in the air waited for Raven to drop a few kernels of corn.

"I'll get Fox some other day," he muttered to himself.

The Snake with the Big Feet

Long ago, in that far-off happy time when the world was new, and there were no white people at all, only Indians and animals, there was a snake who was different from other snakes. He had feet, big feet. And the other snakes, because he was different, hated him, and made life wretched for him. Finally, they drove him away from the country where the snakes lived, saying, "A good long way from here live other ugly creatures with feet like yours. Go and live with them!" And the poor, unhappy Snake had to go away.

For days and days, he travelled. The weather grew cold and food became hard to find. At last, exhausted, his feet cut and frostbitten, he lay down on the bank of a river to die.

The Deer, E-se-ko-to-ye, looked out of a willow thicket, and saw the Snake lying on the river bank. Pitying him, the deer took the Snake into his own lodge and gave him food and medicine for his bleeding feet.

The Deer told the Snake that there were indeed creatures with feet like his who would befriend him, but that some among these would be enemies whom it would be necessary to kill before he could reach safety.

He showed the Snake how to make a shelter for protection from the cold and taught him how to make moccasins of deerskin to protect his feet. And at dawn the Snake continued his journey.

The sun was far down the western sky, and it was bitter cold when the Snake made camp the next night. As he gathered boughs for a shelter, Kais-kap the porcupine appeared. Shivering, the Porcupine asked him, "Will you give me shelter in your lodge for the night?"

The Snake said, "It's very little that I have, but you are welcome to share it."

"I am grateful," said Kais-kap, "and perhaps I can do something for you. Those are beautiful moccasins, brother, but they do not match your skin. Take some of my quills, and make a pattern on them, for good luck." So they worked a pattern on the moccasins with the porcupine quills, and the Snake went on his way again.

As the Deer had told him, he met enemies. Three times he was challenged by hostile Indians, and three times he killed his adversary.

At last he met an Indian who greeted him in a friendly manner. The Snake had no gifts for this kindly chief, so he gave him the moccasins. And that, so the old Ones say, was how our people first learned to make moccasins of deerskin, and to ornament them with porcupine quills in patterns, like those on the back of a snake. And from that day on the Snake lived in the lodge of the chief, counting his coup of scalps with the warriors by the Council fire and, for a long time, was happy.

But the chief had a daughter who was beautiful and kind, and the Snake came to love her very much indeed. He wished that he were human, so that he might marry the maiden, and have his own lodge. He knew there was no hope of this unless the High Gods, the Above Spirits took pity on him, and would perform a miracle on his behalf.

So he fasted and prayed for many, many days. But all his fasting and praying had no result, and at last the Snake came very ill.

Now, in the tribe, there was a very highly skilled Medicine Man. Mo'ki-ya was an old man, so old that he had seen and known, and understood, everything that came within the compass of his people's lives, and many things that concerned the Spirits. Many times, his lodge was seen to sway with the Ghost Wind, and the voices of those long gone on to the Sand Hills spoke to him.

Mo'ki-ya came to where the Snake lay in the chief's lodge, and sending all the others away, asked the Snake what his trouble was.

"It is beyond even your magic," said the Snake, but he told Mo'ki-ya about his love for the maiden, and his desire to become a man so that he could marry her.

Mo'ki-ya sat quietly thinking for a while. Then he said, "I shall go on a journey, brother. Perhaps my magic can help, perhaps not. We shall see when I return." And he gathered his medicine bundles and disappeared.

It was a long and fearsome journey that Mo'ki-ya made. He went to the shores of a great lake. He climbed a high mountain, and he took the matter to Nato'se, the Sun himself.

And Nato'se listened, for this man stood high in the regard of the spirits, and his medicine was good. He did not ask, and never had asked, for anything for himself, and to transform the Snake into a brave of the tribe was not a difficult task for the High Gods. The third day after the arrival of Mo'ki-ya at the Sun's abode, Nato'se said to him, "Return to your own lodge Mo'ki-ya, and build a fire of small sticks. Put many handfuls of sweet-grass on the fire, and when the smoke rises thickly, lay the body of the Snake in the middle of it."

And Mo'ki-ya came back to his own land.

The fire was built in the centre of the Medicine lodge, as the Sun had directed, and when the sweetgrass smouldered among the embers, sending the smoke rolling in great billows through the tepee, Mo'ki-ya gently lifted the Snake, now very nearly dead, and placed him in the fire so that he was hidden by the smoke.

The Medicine-drum whispered softly in the dusk of the lodge: the chant of the old men grew a little louder, and then the smoke obscuring the fire parted like a curtain, and a young man stepped out.

Great were the rejoicings in the camp that night. The Snake, now a handsome young brave, was welcomed into the tribe with the ceremonies befitting the reception of one shown to be high in the favour of the spirits. The chief gladly gave him his daughter, happy to have a son-in-law of such distinction.

Many brave sons and beautiful daughters blessed the lodge of the Snake and at last, so the Old ones say, his family became a new tribe the Pe-sik-na-ta-pe, or Snake Indians.

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