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The Snail And The Beaver

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian

The father of the Osage nation was a snail. It was when the earth was
young and little. It was before the rivers had become wide or long, or
the mountains lifted their peaks above the clouds, that the snail
found himself passing a quiet existence on the banks of the River
Missouri. His wants and wishes were but few, and well supplied, and he
was happy.

At length the region of the Missouri was visited by one of those great
storms which so often scatter desolation over it, and the river,
swollen by the melted snow and ice from the mountains, swept away
everything from its banks, and among other things the drowsy snail.
Upon a log he drifted down many a day's journey, till the river,
subsiding, left him and his log upon the banks of the River of Fish.
He was left in the slime, and the hot sun beamed fiercely upon him
till he became baked to the earth and found himself incapable of
moving. Gradually he grew in size and stature, and his form
experienced a new change, till at length what was once a snail
creeping on the earth ripened into man, erect, tall, and stately. For
a long time after his change to a human being he remained stupefied,
not knowing what he was or by what means to sustain life. At length
recollection returned to him. He remembered that he was once a snail
and dwelt upon another river. He became animated with a wish to return
to his old haunts, and accordingly directed his steps towards those
parts from which he had been removed. Hunger now began to prey upon
him, and bade fair to close his eyes before he should again behold his
beloved haunts on the banks of the river. The beasts of the forest
were many, but their speed outstripped his. The birds of the air
fluttered upon sprays beyond his reach, and the fish gliding through
the waves at his feet were nimbler than he and eluded his grasp. Each
moment he grew weaker, the films gathered before his eyes, and in his
ears there rang sounds like the whistling of winds through the woods
in the month before the snows. At length, wearied and exhausted, he
laid himself down upon a grassy bank.

As he lay the Great Spirit appeared to him and asked--

"Why does he who is the kernel of the snail look terrified, and why is
he faint and weary?"

"That I tremble," answered he, "is because I fear thy power. That I
faint is because I lack food."

"As regards thy trembling," answered the Great Spirit, "be composed.
Art thou hungry?"

"I have eaten nothing," replied the man, "since I ceased to be a

Upon hearing this the Great Spirit drew from under his robe a bow and
arrow, and bade the man observe what he did with it. On the topmost
bough of a lofty tree sat a beautiful bird, singing and fluttering
among the red leaves. He placed an arrow on the bow, and, letting fly,
the bird fell down upon the earth. A deer was seen afar off browsing.
Again the archer bent his bow and the animal lay dead, food for the
son of the snail.

"There are victuals for you," said the Spirit, "enough to last you
till your strength enables you to beat up the haunts of the deer and
the moose, and here is the bow and arrow."

The Great Spirit also taught the man how to skin the deer, and clothed
him with the skin. Having done this, and having given the beasts,
fishes, and all feathered creatures to him for his food and raiment,
he bade the man farewell and took his departure.

Strengthened and invigorated, the man pursued his journey towards the
old spot. He soon stood upon the banks of his beloved river. A few
more suns and he would sit down upon the very spot where for so many
seasons he had crawled on the slimy leaf, so often dragged himself
lazily over the muddy pool. He had seated himself upon the bank of the
river, and was meditating deeply on these things, when up crept from
the water a beaver, who, addressing him, said in an angry tone--

"Who are you?"

"I am a snail," replied the Snail-Man. "Who are you?"

"I am head warrior of the nation of beavers," answered the other. "By
what authority have you come to disturb my possession of this river,
which is my dominion?"

"It is not your river," replied the Wasbasha. "The Great Being, who is
over man and beast, has given it to me."

The beaver was at first incredulous; but at length, convinced that
what the man said was true, he invited him to accompany him to his
home. The man agreed, and went with him till they came to a number of
small cabins, into the largest of which the beaver conducted him. He
invited the man to take food with him, and while the beaver's wife and
daughter were preparing the feast, he entertained his guest with an
account of his people's habits of life. Soon the wife and daughter
made their appearance with the food, and sitting down the Snail-Man
was soon at his ease amongst them. He was not, however, so occupied
with the banquet that he had not time to be enchanted with the beauty
of the beaver's daughter; and when the visit was drawing to a close,
so much was he in love, that he asked the beaver to give her to him
for his wife. The beaver-chief consented, and the marriage was
celebrated by a feast, to which all the beavers, and the animals with
whom they had friendly relations, were invited. From this union of the
Snail-Man and the Beaver-Maid sprang the tribe of the Osages,--at
least so it is related by the old men of the tribe.

Next: The Strange Guests

Previous: The Sun And The Moon

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