Tag Archives: Indian Why Stories

Why Blackfoot Never Kill Mice

Why Blackfoot Never Kill Mice

(Indian Why Stories- Author Frank Bird Linderman, 1869-1938)



Muskrat and his grandmother were gathering wood for the camp when they came upon an old buffalo skull.  The plains were dotted with these relics of the chase, for already the hide-hunting white man had played havoc with the great herds of buffalo.

 This skull was in a grove of cottonwood-trees near the river, and as they approached two Mice scampered into it to hide. 

Muskrat, in great glee, secured a stick and was about to turn the skull over and kill the Mice, when his grandmother said: “No, our people never kill Mice.  Your grandfather will tell you why if you ask him.  The Mice-people are our friends and we treat them as such.  Even small people can be good friends –remember that.”

All day long the boy wondered why the Mice-people should not be harmed and at dusk he went to War Eagle’s lodge. When he entered he found the other children already assembled there. As soon as he was seated Muskrat sounded the question:

“Grandfather, why must we never kill the Mice-people?  Grandmother said that you knew.”

“Yes,” replied War Eagle, “I do know and you must now know too.  Therefore I shall tell you all about why the Mice-people must be let alone and allowed to do as they please, for we owe them much; much more than we can ever repay. 

“It happened long, long ago, when there were few men and women in the world.  Old-Man was Chief of all then, and the animal-people and the bird-people were greater than our people, because we had not been on earth long and were not wise.

“There was much quarrelling among the animals and the birds.  You see the Bear wanted to be Chief, under Old-Man, and so did the Beaver. Almost every night they would have a council and quarrel over it. Beside the Bear and Beaver, there were other animals, and also birds, that thought they had the right to be Chief.  They couldn’t agree and the quarrelling grew worse as time went on.  Some said the greatest thief should be chosen.  Others thought the wisest one should be the leader; while some said the swiftest traveller was the one they wanted. So it went on and on until they were most all enemies instead of friends, and you could hear them quarrelling almost every night, until Old-Man came along that way.

“He heard about the trouble.  I forget who told him, but I think it was the Rabbit.  Anyhow he visited the council where the quarrelling was going on and listened to what each one had to say.  It took until almost daylight, too.  He listened to it all–every bit.  When they had finished talking and the quarrelling commenced as usual, he said, ‘Stop!’ and they did stop.

“Then he said to them: ‘I will settle this thing right here and right now, so that there will be no more rows over it, forever.’

“He opened his paint sack and took from it a small, polished bone. This he held up in the firelight, so that they might all see it, and he said:

“‘This will settle the quarrel.  You all see this bone in my right hand, don’t you?’

“‘Yes,’ they replied.

“‘Well, now you watch the bone and my hands, too, for they are quick and cunning.’

“Old-Man began to sing the trickster song and to slip the bone from one hand to the other so rapidly and smoothly that they were all puzzled.

Finally he stopped singing and held out his hands–both shut tight, and both with their backs up.

“‘Which of my hands holds the bone now?’ he asked them.

“Some said it was in the right hand and others claimed that it was the left hand that held it.  Old-Man asked the Bear to name the hand that held the bone, and the Bear did; but when Old-Man opened that hand it was empty–the bone was not there.  Then everybody laughed at the Bear.



Old-Man smiled a little and began to sing and again pass the bone.

“‘Beaver, you are smart; name the hand that holds the bone this time.’

“The Beaver said: ‘It’s in your right hand.  I saw you put it there.’



“Old-Man opened that hand right before the Beaver’s eyes, but the bone wasn’t there, and again everybody laughed–especially the Bear.

“‘Now, you see,’ said Old-Man, ‘that this is not so easy as it looks, but I am going to teach you all to play the game; and when you have all learned it, you must play it until you find out who is the cleverest at the playing.  Whoever that is, he shall be Chief under me, forever.’

“Some were awkward and said they didn’t care much who was Chief, but most all of them learned to play pretty well. 

First the Bear and the Beaver tried it, but the Beaver beat the Bear easily and held the bone for ever so long.  



Finally the Buffalo beat the Beaver and started to play with the Mouse.  Of course the Mouse had small hands and was quicker than the Buffalo–quicker to see the bone.  The Buffalo tried hard for he didn’t want the Mouse to be Chief but it didn’t do him any good; for the Mouse won in the end.

“It was a fair game and the Mouse was Chief under the agreement.  He looked quite small among the rest but he walked right out to the centre of the council and said:

“‘Listen, brothers–what is mine to keep is mine to give away.  I am too small to be your Chief and I know it.  I am not warlike.  I want to live in peace with my wife and family.  I know nothing of war.  I get my living easily.  I don’t like to have enemies.  I am going to give my right to be Chief to the man that Old-Man has made like himself.’

“That settled it.  That made the man Chief forever, and that is why he is greater than the animals and the birds.  That is why we never kill the Mice-people.



“You saw the Mice run into the buffalo skull, of course.  There is where they have lived and brought up their families ever since the night the Mouse beat the Buffalo playing the bone game.  Yes—the Mice-people always make their nests in the heads of the dead Buffalo-people, ever since that night.

“Our people play the same game, even today.  See,” and War Eagle took from his paint sack a small, polished bone.  Then he sang just as Old-Man did so long ago.  He let the children try to guess the hand that held the bone, as the animal-people did that fateful night; but, like the animals, they always guessed wrong.  Laughingly War Eagle said:

“Now go to your beds and come to see me to-morrow night.  Ho!”



The End




Title: Indian Why Stories

Author: Frank Bird Linderman (1869-1938)


What a splendid lodge it was, and how grand War Eagle looked leaning against his back-rest in the firelight!  From the tripod that supported the back-rest 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, Oldman, 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 war-paint 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 Oldman who taught the beaver all his cunning.  It was Oldman 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.

Oldman 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.

04-Arthur Heming (1870-1940)

He lived with the wolves, for they are the great hunters.  Even to-day 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.  Oldman 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 Oldman and his tricks and lies. Yes, 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 with him, and one day in the month of roses, he built a lodge for Oldman 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 Oldman 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 Oldman 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 travelling.


“The sun was low when Oldman 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.

Oldman 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.”

09-July 27, 1806, a small contingent was returning from a risky expedition to explore the N extent of Marias River.

“‘That is strange,” said Oldman; “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 Oldman 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.

“Oldman 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 Oldman, “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 Oldman 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 Oldman, ‘now lie down to sleep and I will do as I promised.”

The Person went to sleep and Oldman 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 walked the Person, who was now a tiny animal with a bushy tail to make him pretty.

“‘Now,’ said Oldman, “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 Oldman for his new clothes, he wanted to know how he could make his living, and Oldman 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 Oldman. “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 South-wind to tell all the doe-deer and the cow-elk to come to him.  They came as soon as they received the message, for they were afraid of Oldman and always tried to please him.  When they had all reached the place where Oldman 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 someday be great warriors to go to bed, and for all young women to seek rest, lest beauty go away forever.  Ho!”

The End.