In the midst of these demonstrations, a little figure, bent and staggering, covered with mud and all in disorder, with a countenance full of wonder and sympathy, approached them, and began,—
“Why? what? what? Who’s dead?”
“Who’s dead?” repeated they, looking up in astonishment. “Why, you’re dead! you were drowned in Swan Lake! Did not we find your blanket there? Come, sit down and help us mourn.”
The old man did not wait for a second invitation. He took his seat and cried and drank with the rest, weeping and lamenting as bitterly as any of them, and the strange scene was continued as long as they had power to articulate, or any portion of the whiskey was left.
The Indians, of whatever tribe, are exceedingly fond of narrating or listening to tales and stories, whether historical or fictitious. They have their professed storytellers, like the Oriental nations, and these go about, from village to village, collecting an admiring and attentive audience, however oft-told and familiar the matter they recite.
It is in this way that their traditions are preserved and handed down unimpaired from generation to generation. Their knowledge of the geography of their country is wonderfully exact. I have seen an Indian sit in his lodge, and draw a map, in the ashes, of the Northwestern States, not of their statistical but their geographical features, lakes, rivers, and mountains, with the greatest accuracy, giving their relative distances, by days’ journeys, without hesitation, and even extending his drawings and explanations as far as Kentucky and Tennessee.
Of biography they preserve not only the leading events in the life of the person, but his features, appearance, and bearing, his manners, and whatever little trait or peculiarity characterized him.
The women are more fond of fiction, and some of their stories have a strange mingling of humor and pathos. I give the two which follow as specimens. The Indian names contained in them are in the Ottawa or “Courte-Oreilles” language, but the same tales are current in all the different tongues and dialects.
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This is an animal to which many peculiarities are attributed. He is said to resemble the jackal in his habit of molesting the graves of the dead, and the Indians have a superstitious dread of hearing his bark at night, believing that it forebodes calamity and death. They say, too, that he was originally of one uniform reddish-brown color, but that his legs became black in the manner related in the story.
There was a chief of a certain village who had a beautiful daughter. He resolved upon one occasion to make a feast and invite all the animals. When the invitation was brought to the red fox, he inquired, “What are you going to have for supper?”