Sacred Texts  Native American  Index  Previous  Next 

American Indian Fairy Tales, by Margaret Compton, [1907], at

p. 3 p. 4 p. 5


NOWBIRD was the much-loved wife of Brown Bear, the brave hunter whose home was on the shore of the Great Lake. He kept the wigwam well supplied with food; and Snowbird's moccasins were the finest in the tribe, save only those of the Chief's daughters. Even those owed much of their beauty to the lovely feathers that Snowbird had given them. If you had asked her where she got them she would have answered proudly, "My husband brought them from the chase."

Besides Brown Bear and his wife, there lived in the wigwam their own, dear, little papoose whom they called "Pigeon," because he was always saying, "Goo, goo;" but they hoped that he would win a nobler name some day, when he should fight the enemy, or kill some beast that was a terror to the tribe, and so take its name for his own.

p. 6

These three would have been a very happy family; nor would the little orphan boy whom they had adopted long before Pigeon was born, have made them any trouble; he was a great help to them. But there was still another inmate, Brown Bear's mother, a wicked, old squaw, whom none of the other sons' wives would have in their wigwams. Brown Bear was her youngest son, and had always been her favorite. She was kind to him when she was not to any one else; and he loved her and took good care of her, just as much after he brought Snowbird home to be his wife, as he had done before. But the old woman was jealous; and when Brown Bear brought in dainty bits, such as the moose's lip and the bear's kidney, and gave them to his wife, she hated her and grumbled and mumbled to herself in the corner by the fire.

Day after day she sat thinking how she could get rid of the "intruder," as she called her daughter-in-law. She forgot how she had married the only son of a brave Chief and had gone to be the mistress of his wigwam; and he had been as kind and good to her as her son was to Snowbird.

One day when the work was all done,

p. 7

the old woman asked her daughter-in-law to go out to see a swing she had found near the Great Lake. It was a twisted grapevine, that hung over a high rock; but it was stout and strong, for it had been there many years and was securely fastened about the roots of two large trees. The old woman got in first and grasping the vine tightly, swung herself further and further until she was clear out over the water. "It is delightful," said she; "just try it."

So Snowbird got into the swing. While she was enjoying the cool breeze that rose from the lake, the old woman crept behind the trees, and, as soon as the swing was in full motion, and Snowbird was far out over the water, she cut the vine and let her drop down, down, down, not stopping to see what became of her.

She went home and putting on her daughter-in-law's clothes sat in Snowbird's place by the fire, hiding her face as much as possible, so that no one should see her wrinkles.

When Brown Bear came home he gave her the dainties, supposing she was his wife; and she ate them greedily, paying no attention to the baby, who was crying as if its heart would break.

p. 8

"Why does little Pigeon cry so?" asked the father.

I don't know," said the old woman, "I suppose he's hungry."

Thereat, she picked up the baby, shook it soundly and made believe to nurse it. It cried louder than ever. She boxed its ears and stuffed something into its mouth to keep it quiet.

Brown Bear thought his wife very cross, so he took his pipe and left the wigwam.

The orphan boy had watched all these doings and had grown suspicious. Going to the fire he pretended to brush away the ashes; and, when he thought the old woman was not looking at him, he stirred the logs and made a bright flame leap up so that he could plainly see her face. He was sure there was something wrong.

"Where is Snowbird?" asked he.

"Sh—!" said the old woman; "she is by the lake, swinging." The boy said no more, but went out of the wigwam and down to the lake. There he saw the broken swing, and guessing what had happened, he went in search of Brown Bear and told him what he had discovered.

Brown Bear did not like to think any wrong of his mother, and therefore asked her no questions. Sadly he paced up and

p. 9

down outside the door of his wigwam. Then taking some black paint he smeared his face and body with it as a sign of mourning. When this was done he turned his long spear upside down, and pressing it into the earth, prayed for lightning, thunder and rain, so that his wife's body might rise from the lake.

Every day he went thither, but saw no sign of his dear Snowbird, though the thunder rolled heavily and the lightning had split a great oak near the wigwam from the top to the base. He watched in the rain, in the sunlight, and when the great, white moon shone over the lake, but he saw nothing.

Meanwhile the orphan boy looked after little Pigeon, letting him suck the dantiest, juiciest bits of meat, and bringing him milk to drink. On bright afternoons he would take the baby to the lake shore and amuse him by throwing pebbles into the water. Little Pigeon would laugh and crow and stretch out his tiny hands, then taking a pebble would try to throw it into the water himself, and, though it always dropped at his feet, he was just as well pleased.

One day as they were playing in this manner they saw a white gull rise from

p. 10

the center of the lake and fly towards the part of the shore where they were. When it reached them it circled above their heads, flying down close to them until little Pigeon could almost touch its great, white wings. Then, all of a sudden, it changed to a woman— Snowbird, little Pigeon's mother!

The baby crowed with delight and caught at two belts, one of leather and one of white metal, that his mother wore about her waist. She could not speak; but she took the baby in her arms, fondled it and nursed it. Then she made signs to the boy by which he understood that he was to bring the child there every day.

When Brown Bear came home that night the boy told him all that had happened.

The next afternoon when the baby cried for food the boy took him to the lake shore, Brown Bear following and hiding behind the bushes. The boy stood where he had before, close to the water's edge, and, choosing a smooth, round pebble, raised his arm slowly and with careful aim threw it far out into the lake.

Soon the gull, with a long, shining belt around its body, was seen rising from the

“Then, all of a sudden it changed to a woman.”
Click to enlarge

“Then, all of a sudden it changed to a woman.”

p. 11

water. It came ashore, hovered above them a moment, and, as on the previous day, changed into a woman and took the child in her arms.

While she was nursing it her husband appeared. The black paint was still on his body, but he held his spear in his hand.

"Why have you not come home?" he cried, and sprang forward to embrace her.

She could not speak, but pointed to the shining belt she wore.

Brown Bear raised his spear carefully and struck a great blow at the links. They were shivered to fragments and dropped on the sands, where any one seeing them would have supposed they were pieces of a large shell.

Then Snowbird's speech returned and she told how when she fell into the lake, a water-tiger seized her and twisting his tail around her waist, drew her to the bottom.

There she found a grand lodge whose walls were blue like the bluejay's back when the sun shines upon it, green like the first leaves of the maize and golden like the bright sands on the island of the Caribs; and the floor was of sand, white as the snows of winter. This was the

p. 12

wigwam of the Chief of the water-tigers, whose mother was the Horned Serpent and lived with him.

The Serpent lay on a great, white shell which had knobs of copper that shone like distant campfires. But these were nothing to the red stone that sparkled on her forehead. It was covered with a thin skin like a man's eyelid, which was drawn down when she went to sleep. Her horns were very wonderful, for they were possessed of magic. When they touched a great rock the stone fell apart and there was a pathway made through it wherever the Serpent wanted to go.

There were forests in the Water-Tiger's country, trees with leaves like the willow, only longer, finer and broader, bushes and clumps of soft, dark grass.

When night came and the sun no longer shone down into the lodge and the color went out of the walls, there were fireflies—green, blue, crimson, and orange—that lighted on the bushes outside the Water-Tiger's wigwam; and the most beautiful s of them passed inside and fluttered about the throne of the Serpent, standing guard over her while the purple snails, the day sentinels, slept.

Snowbird trembled when she saw these

p. 13

things and fell down in a faint before the great Horned Serpent. But the Water-Tiger soothed her, for he loved her and wanted her to become his wife. This she consented to do at last on condition that she should be allowed to go back sometimes to the lake shore to see her child.

The Water-Tiger consulted his mother, who agreed to lend him a sea-gull's wing which should cover his wife all over and enable her to fly to the shore. He was told, however, to fasten his tail securely about her waist, lest she should desert him when she found herself near her old home. He did so, taking care to put a leather belt around her, for fear the links of white metal might hurt her delicate skin.

So she lived with the Water-Tiger, kept his lodge in order and made moccasins for the little water-tigers out of beaver skin and dried fish scales, and was as happy as she could have been anywhere away from her own Brown Bear and Little Pigeon.

When the old woman, Brown Bear's mother, saw them at the door of the wigwam, she leaped up and flew out of the lodge and was never seen again.

Next: The Coyote or Prairie Wolf.