Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Mohawk Valley Indian Notes

Tell Me An Indian Story

(No Newspaper or date appear with this article.)

Animal Tricks

The smart young wild cat walked down the trail near the edge of the lake. In the water, sunning himself, slept old Mr. Otter. These two old friends were always playing tricks on each other and when the wild cat saw the otter seemingly asleep in the shallow water he speedily climbed and overhanging tree.

He ran out on a branch and began to throw pieces of bark on the head of the otter below. This made the otter angry and he told the wild cat to stop. But the wild cat only laughed and yelled, "Come up and get me."

Of course the otter could not climb the tree; but the wild cat insisted, "come on up."

So the otter came ashore and the wild cat told him if he came up he could see right down into the water. But the otter only laughed and the wild cat took hold of him by the back of the neck and pushed him up the sloping trunk of the tree and out to the end of the branch. When he had the otter out on the branch the cat ran down to the ground and gave a hearty laugh, for there was the otter high in the tree.

Finally the otter tried to move and slipped off into the water.

Then the otter thought he would get even so he invited the wild cat to take a ride on the water. So the cat got on the otter's back and the otter swam out to deep water. Then the otter dived and left the wild cat struggling. The wild cat pleased with the otter to save him; so, when the cat promised to play no more mean tricks, the otter swam the tricky wild cat back to dry land. Since then the wild cat tries no smart tricks on the otter.

What the Maple Leaf Teaches

(Dr. E. A. Bates, Cornell)

That morning the rays of the hesitant sun made the yellowing blades of grass sparkle across the council grounds in the center of the village; the moccasins of a father and a son were wet as they entered the corn fields. Finally the sun chased the dew away and father and son worked diligently to cut the leaves away from the squash and pumpkin vines, for the fruits would need all the sun possible that they might become hard and firm for the winter.

As they worked many little beetles scurried away and the boy was much interested in the quickness of their jumps. The father showed the boy many little dents in the sides of the squashes and told the boy that the marks showed where the beetles had their dinner many times during the summer.

Homeward on the trail returned the farmer and his son, and as they neared the village they saw a sugar maple all aflame with red and yellow leaves. The father told his son to remind him of the leaves after the evening meal.

So after the warm corn soup had been served in wooden bowls. The son reminded his dad of the colors on the leaves of the maple. Drawing his pipe from his mouth, the father told the boy that the Great Spirit put that sign forth each autumn to remind all people of life.

"You, my son," began the father, "are now like the maple in the springtime, green and strong and bubbling with life, and I am fast turning yellow. Ere a man goes to the land beyond the skies, he is deep red in color, full of thoughts and memories; till at length a gentle breeze comes across the valley of time, and he drops to the ground like the maple leaf to join his father. A maple leaf each year teaches us all the trail of life and the need of service when we are green and strong."

Medicine Moon

(Dr. E. A. Bates, Cornell)

The gray clouds hung heavy over the western hill overlooking the Indian village and the breath of the north wind was growing colder each hour. Finally, as the sun went to rest, from the dark clouds fell the first snow flakes of the year.

Lazy farmers were troubled, for their crops were still in the field; but the other farmers sat beside their fire logs knowing well they had plenty of corn, beans and squashes to last over the long winter moons.

Then came on the warm days of "lazy farmer moon" which the pale face calls "Indian Summer." During this time, the lazy farmer is granted by the Great Spirit a last chance to garner his crops.

When the lazy farmer works, the other farmers walk into the woods, for it is the "good medicine moon" for them. The frost and cold weather have driven all the juices into the roots and from plant to plant the medicine seekers wander. The root of the mandrake is for dizzy headaches when one eat too much and does not exercise; and the wild turnip is for cramps in the stomach when one has drunk water from the ice covered spring during the winter hunt. The long slender roots of the hepatica are good when the liver needs a tonic; and the thick root of the goldenseal is for mother when pains come to her back. The medicine gatherers forget not the berries of the wintergreen to be cooked with the venison in the winter and the wild thyme to garnish the partridges when they are roasted for the visiting tribesmen.

I Like Seeds

(Dr. E. A. Bates, Cornell)

The breath of the North Wind turned cold early in the hunting moon; trails through the woods had to be broken because of the heavy snowfall.

The Indians in the village heaped dirt around the base of their long, barked cabins to keep out the cold wind and snow. The thick hides of old Mr. Bear had been carefully sewed together and made into a door to protect the lodgers, and it was the season when children nestled close to mother in the eventide to listen to tales of wonder and wisdom.

After the evening meal of hot baked squashes, the family looked to the story teller:

"Many, many moons ago," she said, "when the Indians first began to live in old New York, all the birds would leave the river and creek bottoms to start their sky trail to the warm southland as soon as the first snowfall came.

"In the village, many old people were friendly with the birds and wanted their companionship during the long winter moons. So one of these old women, who had lost all her family, thought and thought how she could keep the birds all winter.

"When the autumn came and the corn was taken in from the field, the birds were hungry and began to flock around the cabins in the village for a chance kernel of corn or other morsel of food.

"All that this old woman had to feed the birds were seeds that she gathered in the woods; yet most of the birds did not like raspberry seeds and the like, which were all the old lady had. So the robins, the blue birds and most of the other birds flew away.

"On bird did like raspberry seeds; and even though the coldest winter you can still hear him sing, 'I like seeds.' The bird still sings these words in the Indian tongue, but the paleface does not understand it and says the friendly little birds sing 'Chick-a-dee.'"

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