Why the Kingfisher Always Wears a War-Bonnet
Autumn nights on the upper Missouri river
in Montana are indescribably beautiful, and under their spell
imagination is a constant companion to him who lives in wilderness,
lending strange, weird echoes to the voice of man or wolf, and
unnatural shapes in shadow to commonplace forms.
moon had not yet climbed the distant mountain range to look
down on the humbler lands when I started for War Eagle's lodge;
and dimming the stars in its course, the milky way stretched
across the jewelled sky. "The wolf's trail," the Indians call
this filmy streak that foretells fair weather, and tonight it
promised much, for it seemed plainer and brighter than ever before.
"How - how!" greeted
War Eagle, making the sign for me to be seated near him,
as I entered his lodge. Then he passed me his pipe and together
we smoked until the children came.
Entering quietly, they seated
themselves in exactly the same positions they had occupied
on the previous evenings, and patiently waited in silence. Finally
War Eagle laid the pipe away and said: "Ho! Little Buffalo
Calf, throw a big stick on the fire and I will tell you
why the Kingfisher wears a war bonnet."
The boy did as he was bidden. The sparks
jumped toward the smokehole and the blaze lighted up
the lodge until it was bright as daytime, when War Eagle continued:
have often seen Kingfisher at his fishing along the
rivers, I know; and you have heard him laugh in his queer way,
for he laughs a good deal when he flies. That same laugh nearly
cost him his life once, as you will see. I am sure none could
see the Kingfisher without noticing his great headdress, but
not many know how he came by it because it happened so long ago
that most men have forgotten.
"It was one day in the wintertime when
OLD-man and the Wolf were hunting. The snow covered
the land and ice was on all of the rivers. It was so cold that
OLD-man wrapped his robe close about himself and his breath showed
white in the air. Of course the Wolf was not cold; wolves never
get cold as men do. Both OLD-man and the Wolf were hungry for
they had travelled far and had killed no meat. OLD-man was complaining
and grumbling, for his heart is not very good. It
is never well to grumble when we are doing our best, because
it will do no good and makes us weak in our hearts. When our
hearts are weak our heads sicken and our strength goes away.
Yes, it is bad to grumble.
"When the sun was getting low OLD-man and the
Wolf came to a great river. On the ice that covered the water,
they saw four fat Otters playing.
"'There is meat,' said the
Wolf; 'wait here and I will try to catch one of those fellows.'
cried OLD-man, 'do not run after the Otter on the ice,
because there are airholes in all ice that covers rivers, and
you may fall in the water and die.' OLD-man didn't care much
if the Wolf did drown. He was afraid to be left alone and hungry
in the snow - that was all.
"'Ho!' said the Wolf, 'I am swift of foot and my teeth
are white and sharp. What chance has an Otter against me? Yes,
I will go,' and he did.
"Away ran the Otters with the Wolf after
them, while OLD-man stood on the bank and shivered
with fright and cold. Of course the Wolf was faster than the
Otter, but he was running on the ice, remember, and slipping
a good deal. Nearer and nearer ran the Wolf. In fact he was just
about to seize an Otter, when SPLASH!--into an airhole all the
Otters went. Ho ! the Wolf was going so fast he couldn't stop,
and SWOW! into the airhole he went like a badger after mice,
and the current carried him under the ice. The Otters knew that
hole was there. That was their country and they were running
to reach that same hole all the time, but the Wolf didn't know
it all and began to cry and wail as women do. Ho! but
he made a great fuss. He ran along the bank of the river, stumbling
in the snowdrifts, and crying like a woman whose child is dead;
but it was because he didn't want to be left in that
country alone that he cried - not because he loved his brother,
the Wolf. On and on he ran until he came to a place where the
water was too swift to freeze, and there he waited and watched
for the Wolf to come out from under the ice, crying and wailing
and making an awful noise, for a man.
"Well, right there is where
the thing happened. You see, Kingfisher can't fish
through the ice and he knows it, too; so he always finds places
like the one OLD-man found. He was there that day, sitting on
the limb of a birchtree, watching for fishes, and when OLD-
man came near to Kingfisher's tree, crying like an old woman,
it tickled the Fisher so much that he laughed that queer, chattering
"OLD-man heard him and - Ho! but he was angry.
He looked about to see who was laughing at him and that made
Kingfisher laugh again, longer and louder than before. This time
OLD-man saw him and SWOW! he threw his warclub at Kingfisher;
tried to kill the bird for laughing. Kingfisher ducked so quickly
that OLD-man's club just grazed the feathers on his head, making
them stand up straight.
"'There,' said OLD-man, 'I'll teach you to
laugh at me when I'm sad. Your feathers are standing
up on the top of your head now and they will stay that way, too.
As long as you live you must wear a headdress, to pay for your
laughing, and all your children must do the same.
"This was long, long
ago, but the Kingfishers have not forgotten, and
they all wear war bonnets, and always will as long as there