Why the Chipmunk's Back is Striped
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 travelling 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 pinetrees murmured, and the bushes whispered their greeting,
but he kept his eyes straight ahead and went on travelling.
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
"'Yes,' answered the man. 'This whole day long we
have fought to kill a Person, but we have all been killed, I
"'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 pinetree. 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
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
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
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 pinenuts 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?'
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.
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!"