American Indian Legends
Once there was a great hunter who was very rich. He had many strings of shell money around his neck. The Indians call these shells wampum.
In the woods near his home lived a big white elk that used to come and talk to him. The elk told him what was right and what was wrong. The Great Spirit sent the elk to him.
When he obeyed the elk, he was happy and everything went well, but when he did not obey, he was not happy, and everything went wrong.
One day the elk said to him:
“You are too hungry for wampum. Look! your neck and shoulders are covered with long strings of wampum. Some of it belongs to your wife. You took it from her. You took some of it from other Indians and gave them deer meat that was not fit to eat. You are not honest.”
The hunter was much ashamed, but he would not give back the wampum. He thought too much of it to give it back.
“I will give you enough wampum to fill your heart,” said the elk, “but you must do just as I tell you. Will you do it?”
“I will do it,” said the hunter.
“Go to the top of the great white mountain. There you will find a black lake. Across the lake are three black rocks. One of them is like the head of a moose.
“Dig in the earth before this rock. There you will find a cave full of wampum. It is on strings of elk skin. Take all you want.
“While you dig, twelve otters will come out of the black lake. Put a string of wampum around the neck of each of the otters and upon each of the three black rocks.”
The hunter went back to the village. There he got an elk-horn pick and set out. No one knew where he went.
He made his camp that night at the foot of the great white mountain. As soon as it was light, he began to climb up the mountain side. At last he stood on the top, and there before him was a great hollow. It was so great that he could not shoot an arrow across it.
The hollow was white with snow, but in the middle was a black lake, and on the other side of the lake stood the three black rocks.
The hunter walked around the lake over the snow. Then he took the elk-horn pick and struck one blow before the black rock which looked like the head of a moose.
Four great otters came up out of the black lake and sat beside him.
He struck another blow. Four more otters came and sat behind him.
He struck again. Four more otters came and sat on the other side.
At last the pick struck a rock. The hunter dug it out, and beneath it was a cave full of wampum.
The hunter put both of his hands into the wampum and played with it. It felt good. He took out great strings of it and put them around his neck and over his shoulders.
He worked fast, for the sun was now going down, and he must go home.
He put so many strings of wampum around his neck and shoulders that he could hardly walk.
But he did not put any around the necks of the twelve otters, nor on the three black rocks. He did not give them one string—not one shell.
He forgot what the white elk had told him. He did not obey.
Soon it grew dark. He crept along by the shore of the big black lake. The otters jumped into it and swam and beat the water into white foam. A black mist came over the mountain.
Then the storm winds came, and the Great Spirit was in the storm.
It seemed as if the storm said, “You did not obey! You did not obey!”
Then the thunder roared at him, “You did not obey!”
The hunter was greatly frightened. He broke a great string of wampum and threw it to the storm winds, but the storm winds only laughed.
He broke another string and threw it to the thunder voices, but the thunder roared louder than before.
He threw away one string after another until all of them were gone. Then he fell upon the ground and went to sleep. He slept long.
When he woke up he was an old man with white hair. He did not know what had happened, but he sat there and looked at the great mountain, and his heart was full of peace.
“I have no wampum. I have given it all away. I am not hungry for it any more. I will go home,” he said.
He could hardly find his way, for the trees had grown across the trail.
When at last he got home, no one but his wife knew him. She was now very old and had white hair like himself. She showed him a tall man near by, and said it was their baby.
The hunter looked at them.
“I have slept many moons,” he said.
He lived among the Indians long after that and taught them much. He taught them to keep their word, and to obey the Great Spirit.