Why the Mountain Lion is Long and Lean
Have you ever seen the plains in the
morning--a June morning, when the
spurred lark soars and sings--when the plover
calls, and the curlew pipes his shriller notes
to the rising sun? Then is there music, indeed, for no bird outsings
the spurred lark; and thanks to OLD-man he is not wanting in
numbers, either. The plains are wonderful
then--more wonderful than they are at this
season of the year; but at all times they beckon
and hold one as in a spell, especially when
they are backed or bordered by a snow-capped
mountain range. Looking toward the east
they are boundless, but on their western edge
superb mountains rear themselves.
All over this vast country the Indians
roamed, following the great buffalo herds as
did the wolves, and making their living with
the bow and lance, since the horse came to
them. In the very old days the "piskun"
was used, and buffalo were enticed to follow
a fantastically dressed man toward a cliff, far
enough to get the herd moving in that direction, when the "buffalo-man" gained
cover, and hidden Indians raised from their hiding
places behind the animals, and drove them
over the cliff, where they were killed in large
Not until Cortez came with his cavalry from
Spain, were there horses on this continent, and
then generations passed ere the plains tribes
possessed this valuable animal, that so materially changed their
lives. Dogs dragged the Indian's travois or packed his household
goods in the days before the horse came, and
for hundreds--perhaps thousands of years,
these people had no other means of transporting their goods and
chattels. As the Indian is slow to forget or change the ways
of his father, we should pause before we brand him
as wholly improvident, I think.
He has always been a family-man, has the
Indian, and small children had to be carried, as
well as his camp equipage. Wolf-dogs had
to be fed, too, in some way, thus adding to his
burden; for it took a great many to make it
possible for him to travel at all.
When the night came and we visited War
Eagle, we found he had other company--so
we waited until their visit was ended before
settling ourselves to hear the story that he
might tell us.
"The Crows have stolen some of
horses," said War Eagle, as soon as the other
guests had gone. "That is all right--we
shall get them back, and more, too. The
Crows have only borrowed those horses and
will pay for their use with others of their own.
Tonight I shall tell you why the Mountain
lion is so long and thin and why he wears
hair that looks singed. I shall also tell you
why that person's nose is black, because it
is part of the story.
"A long time ago the Mountain-lion
a short, thick-set person. I am sure you
didn't guess that. He was always a great
thief like OLD-man, but once he went too far,
as you shall see.
"One day OLD-man was on a hilltop,
saw smoke curling up through the trees, away
off on the far side of a gulch. 'Ho!' he said,
'I wonder who builds fires except me. I guess
I will go and find out.'
"He crossed the gulch and crept
toward the smoke. When he got quite near
where the fire was, he stopped and listened.
He heard some loud laughing but could not
see who it was that felt so glad and gay.
Finally he crawled closer and peeked through
the brush toward the fire. Then he saw some
Squirrel-people, and they were playing some
sort of game. They were running and laugh-
ing, and having a big time, too. What do
you think they were doing? They were running about the fire--all
chasing one Squirrel. As soon as the Squirrel was caught, they
would bury him in the ashes near the fire until he
cried; then they would dig him out in a hurry.
Then another Squirrel would take the lead
and run until he was caught, as the other
had been. In turn the captive would submit to being buried, and
so on--while the racing and laughing continued. They never
left the buried one in the ashes after he cried,
but always kept their promise and dug him
out, right away.
"'Say, let me play, won't you?'
OLD-man. But the Squirrel-people all ran
away, and he had a hard time getting them
to return to the fire.
"'You can't play this game,' replied
Chief-Squirrel, after they had returned to the
"'Yes, I can,' declared OLD-man,
may bury me first, but be sure to dig me out
when I cry, and not let me burn, for those
ashes are hot near the fire.'
"'All right,' said the Chief-Squirrel,
will let you play. Lie down,'--and OLD-
Man did lie down near the fire. Then the
Squirrels began to laugh and bury OLD-man
in the ashes, as they did their own kind. In
no time at all OLD-man cried: 'Ouch!--you
are burning me--quick!--dig me out.'
"True to their promise, the Squirrel-people
dug OLD-man out of the ashes, and laughed
at him because he cried so quickly.
"'Now, it is my turn to cover
said OLD-man, 'and as there are so many of
you, I have a scheme that will make the game
funnier and shorter. All of you lie down at
once in a row. Then I will cover you all at
one time. When you cry--I will dig you
out right away and the game will be over.'
"They didn't know OLD-man very
they said, 'all right,' and then they all laid
down in a row about the fire.
"OLD-man buried them all in the
then he threw some more wood on the fire
and went away and left them. Every Squirrel
there was in the world was buried in the ashes
except one woman Squirrel, and she told OLD-man she couldn't
play and had to go home. If she hadn't gone, there might not
be any Squirrels in this world right now. Yes, it
is lucky that she went home.
"For a minute or so OLD-man watched
fire as it grew hotter, and then went down to
a creek where willows grew and made him-
self a great plate by weaving them together.
When he had finished making the plate, he
returned to the fire, and it had burned low
again. He laughed at his wicked work, and
a Raven, flying over just then, called him
'forked-tongue,' or liar, but he didn't mind
that at all. OLD-man cut a long stick and
began to dig out the Squirrel-people. One
by one he fished them out of the hot ashes;
and they were roasted fine and were ready to
eat. As he fished them out he counted them,
and laid them on the willow plate he had
made. When he had dug out the last one,
he took the plate to the creek and there sat
down to eat the Squirrels, for he was hungry,
as usual. OLD-man is a big eater, but he
couldn't eat all of the Squirrels at once, and
while eating he fell asleep with the great plate
in his lap.
"Nobody knows how long it was
slept, but when he waked his plate of Squirrels
was gone--gone completely. He looked be-
hind him; he looked about him; but the plate
was surely gone. Ho! But he was angry.
He stamped about in the brush and called
aloud to those who might hear him; but no-
body answered, and then he started to look
for the thief. OLD-man has sharp eyes, and he
found the trail in the grass where somebody
had passed while he slept. 'Ho!' he said,
'the Mountain-lion has stolen my Squirrels.
I see his footprints; see where he has mashed
the grass as he walked with those soft feet
of his; but I shall find him, for I made him
and know all his ways.'
"OLD-man got down on his hands
to walk as the Bear-people do, just as he did
that night in the Sun's lodge, and followed
the trail of the Mountain-lion over the hills
and through the swamps. At last he came
to a place where the grass was all bent down,
and there he found his willow plate, but it
was empty. That was the place where the
Mountain-lion had stopped to eat the rest
of the Squirrels, you know; but he didn't stay
there long because he expected that OLD-man
would try to follow him.
"The Mountain-lion had eaten so
that he was sleepy and, after travelling a while
after he had eaten the Squirrels, he thought
he would rest. He hadn't intended to go
to sleep; but he crawled upon a big stone near
the foot of a hill and sat down where he could
see a long way. Here his eyes began to wink,
and his head began to nod, and finally he
"Without stopping once, OLD-man
the trail. That is what counts--sticking right
to the thing you are doing--and just before
sundown OLD-man saw the sleeping Lion. Care-
fully, lest he wake the sleeper, OLD-man crept
close, being particular not to move a stone or
break a twig; for the Mountain-lion is much
faster than men are, you see; and if OLD-man
had wakened the Lion, he would never have
caught him again, perhaps. Little by little
he crept to the stone where the Mountain-
lion was dreaming, and at last grabbed him
by the tail. It wasn't much of a tail then,
but enough for OLD-man to hold to. Ho!
The Lion was scared and begged hard, saying:
"'Spare me, OLD-man. You were
I was hungry. I had to have something to
eat; had to get my living. Please let me go
and do not hurt me.' Ho! OLD-man was
angry--more angry than he was when he
waked and found that he had been robbed,
because he had travelled so far on his hands
"'I'll show you. I'll teach you.
you, right now. Steal from me, will you?
Steal from the man that made you, you night-
"OLD-man put his foot behind the
tain-lion's head, and, still holding the tail,
pulled hard and long, stretching the Lion
out to great length. He squalled and cried,
but OLD-man kept pulling until he nearly
broke the Mountain-lion in two pieces--
until he couldn't stretch him any more. Then
OLD-man put his foot on the Mountain-lion's
back, and, still holding the tail, stretched
that out until the tail was nearly as long as
"'There, you thief--now you are
and lean to get fat, and you shall always look
just like that. Your children shall all grow
to look the same way, just to pay you for your
stealing from the man that made you. Come
on with me'; and he dragged the poor Lion
back to the place where the fire was, and
there rolled him in the hot ashes, singeing his
robe till it looked a great deal like burnt
hair. Then OLD-man stuck the Lion's nose
against the burnt logs and blackened it some
--that is why his face looks as it does to-day.
"The Mountain-lion was lame and
but OLD-man scolded him some more and
told him that it would take lots more food to
keep him after that, and that he would have
to work harder to get his living, to pay for
what he had done. Then he said, 'go now,
and remember all the Mountain-lions that ever
live shall look just as you do.' And they
"That is the story--that is why
tain-lion is so long and lean, but he is no
bigger thief than OLD-man, nor does he tell any
more lies. Ho!"