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The Spirits And The Lovers

Source: Folk-lore And Legends: North American Indian

At the distance of a woman's walk of a day from the mouth of the
river, called by the pale-faces the Whitestone, in the country of the
Sioux, in the middle of a large plain, stands a lofty hill or mound.
Its wonderful roundness, together with the circumstance of its
standing apart from all other hills, like a fir-tree in the midst of a
wide prairie, or a man whose friends and kindred have all descended to
the dust, has made it known to all the tribes of the West. Whether it
was created by the Great Spirit or filled up by the sons of men,
whether it was done in the morning of the world, ask not me, for I
cannot tell you. Know it is called by all the tribes of the land the
Hill of Little People, or the Mountain of Little Spirits. No gifts can
induce an Indian to visit it; for why should he incur the anger of the
Little People who dwell in it, and, sacrificed upon the fire of their
wrath, behold his wife and children no more? In all the marches and
counter-marches of the Indians, in all their goings and returnings, in
all their wanderings by day or by night to and from lands which lie
beyond it, their paths are so ordered that none approaches near
enough to disturb the tiny inhabitants of the hill. The memory of the
red-man of the forest has preserved but one instance when their
privacy was violated, since it was known through the tribes that they
wished for no intercourse with mortals. Before that time many Indians
were missing each year. No one knew what became of them, but they were
gone, and left no trace nor story behind. Valiant warriors filled
their quivers with arrows, put new strings to their bows, new shod
their moccasins, and sallied out to acquire glory in combat; but there
was no wailing in the camp of our foes: their arrows were not felt,
their shouts were not heard. Yet they fell not by the hands of our
foes, but perished we know not how.

Many seasons ago there lived within the limits of the great
council-fire of the Mahas a chief who was renowned for his valour and
victories in the field, his wisdom in the council, his dexterity and
success in the chase. His name was Mahtoree, or the White Crane. He
was celebrated throughout the vast regions of the West, from the
Mississippi to the Hills of the Serpent, from the Missouri to the
Plains of Bitter Frost, for all those qualities which render an Indian
warrior famous and feared.

In one of the war expeditions of the Pawnee Mahas against the
Burntwood Tetons, it was the good fortune of the former to overcome
and to make many prisoners--men, women, and children. One of the
captives, Sakeajah, or the Bird-Girl, a beautiful creature in the
morning of life, after being adopted into one of the Mahas families,
became the wife of the chief warrior of the nation. Great was the love
which the White Crane had for his wife, and it grew yet stronger when
she had brought him four sons and a daughter, Tatokah, or the
Antelope. She was beautiful. Her skin was fair, her eyes were large
and bright as those of the bison-ox, and her hair black, and braided
with beads, brushed, as she walked, the dew from the flowers upon the
prairies. Her temper was gentle and her voice sweet.

It may not be doubted that the beautiful Tatokah had many lovers; but
the heart of the maiden was touched by none of the noble youths who
sought her. She bade them all depart as they came; she rejected them
all. With the perverseness which is often seen among women, she had
placed her affections upon a youth who had distinguished himself by no
valiant deeds in war, nor by industry or dexterity in the chase. His
name had never reached the surrounding nations. His own nation knew
him not, unless as a weak and imbecile man. He was poor in everything
which constitutes the riches of Indian life. Who had heard the
twanging of Karkapaha's bow in the retreat of the bear, or who had
beheld the war-paint on his cheek or brow? Where were the scalps or
the prisoners that betokened his valour or daring? No song of valiant
exploits had been heard from his lips, for he had none to boast of--if
he had done aught becoming a man, he had done it when none was by. The
beautiful Tatokah, who knew and lamented the deficiencies of her
lover, strove long to conquer her passion without success. At length,
since her father would not agree to her union with her lover, the two
agreed to fly together. The night fixed came, and they left the
village of the Mahas and the lodge of Mahtoree for the wilderness.

Their flight was not unmarked, and when the father was made acquainted
with the disgrace which had befallen him, he called his young men
around him, and bade them pursue the fugitives, promising his daughter
to whomsoever should slay the Karkapaha. Immediately pursuit was made,
and soon a hundred eager youths were on the track of the hapless pair.
With that unerring skill and sagacity in discovering footprints which
mark their race, their steps were tracked, and themselves soon
discovered flying. What was the surprise of the pursuers when they
found that the path taken by the hapless pair would carry them to the
mountain of little spirits, and that they were sufficiently in advance
to reach it before they could be overtaken. None of them durst venture
within the supposed limits, and they halted till the White Crane
should be informed of his daughter and her lover having placed
themselves under the protection of the spirits.

In the meantime the lovers pursued their journey towards the fearful
residence of the little people. Despair lent them courage to perform
an act to which the stoutest Indian resolution had hitherto been
unequal. They determined to tell their tale to the spirits and ask
their protection. They were within a few feet of the hill when, on a
sudden, its brow, on which no object had till now been visible, became
covered with little people, the tallest of whom was not higher than
the knee of the maiden, while many of them--but these were
children--were of lower stature than the squirrel. Their voice was
sharp and quick, like the barking of the prairie dog. A little wing
came out at each shoulder; each had a single eye, which eye was to the
right in the men, and to the left in the women, and their feet stood
out at each side. They were armed like Indians, with tomahawks, spears,
bows, and arrows. He who appeared to be the head chief--for he wore an
air of command, and had the eagle feather--came up to the fugitives and

"Why have you invaded the village of our race whose wrath has been so
fatal to your people? How dare you venture within the limits of our
residence? Know you not that your lives are forfeited?"

Tatokah, for her lover had less than the heart of a doe and was
speechless, related their story. She told them how they had loved, how
wroth her father had been, how they had stolen away and been pursued,
and concluded her tale of sorrow with a flood of tears. The little man
who wore the eagle feather appeared moved by what she said, and
calling around him a large number of men, who were doubtless the
chiefs and counsellors of the nation, a long consultation took place.
The result was a determination to favour and protect the lovers.

At this moment Shongotongo, or the Big Horse, one of the braves whom
Mahtoree had despatched in quest of his daughter, appeared in view in
pursuit of the fugitives. It was not till Mahtoree had taxed his
courage that Big Horse had ventured on the perilous quest. He
approached with the strength of heart and singleness of purpose which
accompany an Indian warrior who deems the eyes of his nation upon him.
When first the brave was discovered thus wantonly, and with no other
purpose but the shedding of blood, intruding on the dominions of the
spirits, no words can tell the rage which appeared to possess their
bosoms. Secure in the knowledge of their power to repel the attacks of
every living thing, the intrepid Maha was permitted to advance within
a few steps of Karkapaha. He had just raised his spear to strike the
unmanly lover, when, all at once, he found himself riveted to the
ground. His feet refused to move, his hands hung powerless at his
side, his tongue refused to utter a word. The bow and arrow fell from
his hand, and his spear lay powerless. A little child, not so high as
the fourth leaf of the thistle, came and spat on him, and a company of
the spirits danced around him singing a taunting song. When they had
thus finished their task of preparatory torture, a thousand little
spirits drew their bows, and a thousand arrows pierced his heart. In a
moment innumerable mattocks were employed in preparing him a grave,
and he was hidden from the eyes of the living ere Tatokah could have
thrice counted over the fingers of her hand.

When this was done, the chief of the little spirits called Karkapaha
before him, and said--

"Maha, you have the heart of a doe. You would fly from a roused wren.
We have not spared you because you deserve to be spared, but because
the maiden loves you. It is for this purpose that we will give you the
heart of a man, that you may return to the village of the Mahas, and
find favour in the eyes of Mahtoree and the braves of the nation. We
will take away your cowardly spirit, and will give you the spirit of
the warrior whom we slew, whose heart was firm as a rock. Sleep, man
of little soul, and wake to be better worthy the love of the beautiful

Then a deep sleep came over the Maha lover. How long he slept he knew
not, but when he woke he felt at once that a change had taken place in
his feelings and temper. The first thought that came to his mind was
of a bow and arrow, the second was of the beautiful maiden who lay
sleeping at his side. The little spirits had disappeared--not a
solitary being of the many thousands who, but a few minutes before,
had filled the air with their discordant cries was now to be seen or
heard. At the feet of Karkapaha lay a tremendous bow, larger than any
warrior ever yet used, a sheaf of arrows of proportionate size, and a
spear of a weight which no Maha could wield. Karkapaha drew the bow as
an Indian boy bends a willow twig, and the spear seemed in his hand
but a reed or a feather. The shrill war-whoop burst unconsciously from
his lips, and his nostrils seemed dilated with the fire and impatience
of a newly-awakened courage. The heart of the fond Indian girl
dissolved in tears when she saw these proofs of strength and these
evidences of spirit which, she knew, if they were coupled with
valour--and how could she doubt the completeness of the gift to effect
the purposes of the giver?--would thaw the iced feelings of her father
and tune his heart to the song of forgiveness. Yet it was not without
many fears, tears, and misgivings on the part of the maiden that they
began their journey to the Mahas village. The lover, now a stranger to
fear, used his endeavours to quiet the beautiful Tatokah, and in some
measure succeeded. Upon finding that his daughter and her lover had
gone to the Hill of the Spirits, and that Shongotongo did not return
from his perilous adventure, the chief of the Mahas had recalled his
braves from the pursuit, and was listening to the history of the pair,
as far as the returned warriors were acquainted with it, when his
daughter and her lover made their appearance. With a bold and fearless
step the once faint-hearted Karkapaha walked up to the offended
father, and, folding his arms upon his breast, stood erect as a pine,
and motionless as that tree when the winds of the earth are chained.
It was the first time that Karkapaha had ever looked on angry men
without trembling, and a demeanour so unusual in him excited universal

"Karkapaha is a thief," said the White Crane.

"It is the father of Tatokah that says it," answered the lover, "else
would Karkapaha say it was the song of a bird that has flown over."

"My warriors say it."

"Your warriors are singing-birds; they are wrens. Karkapaha says they
do not speak the truth. Karkapaha has a brave heart and the strength
of a bear. Let the braves try him. He has thrown away the woman's
heart, and become a man."

"Karkapaha is changed," said the chief thoughtfully, "but how and

"The Little Spirits of the mountain have given him a new soul. Bid
your braves draw this bow. Bid them poise this spear. Their eyes say
they can do neither. Then is Karkapaha the strong man of his tribe?"
As he said this he flourished the ponderous spear over his head as a
man would poise a reed, and drew the bow as a child would bend a twig.

"Karkapaha is the husband of Tatokah," said Mahtoree, springing to his
feet, and he gave the maiden to her lover.

The traditionary lore of the Mahas is full of the exploits, both in
war and in the chase, of Karkapaha, who was made a man by the Spirits
of the Mountain.

Next: The Wonderful Rod

Previous: The Maid In The Box

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