The Tribe That Grew Out Of A Shell
Source: Thirty Indian Legends
Once, when the land along the Missouri River was uninhabited, save by
the beaver and other animals, a snail lay asleep on the bank of the
river. One day the waters began to rise, and soon came up to where he
lay. They swept him out, and he was carried some miles down by the
current. When the waves lowered, he found himself bedded deep in the
mud. He tried to free himself, but he could not. He was hungry and
tired, and at last became so discouraged that he would not try any more.
Then a strange thing happened. He felt his shell crack, and his head
began to rise upright. His body and legs grew and lengthened, and at
last he felt arms stretching out from his sides. Then he stood
He felt very stupid at first, but after a while some thoughts came to
him. He knew he was hungry and wished he were a snail again; for he
knew how to get food as a snail, but not as a man. He saw plenty of
birds, but did not know how to kill them. He wandered on through the
forest, until he became so tired that he lay down to rest.
He heard a gentle voice speaking to him, and looking up, he saw the
Great Spirit, who was seated on a snow-white horse. His eyes shone
like stars, and his hair like threads of gold.
"Wasbashas, why are you trembling?"
"I am frightened," replied the man, "because I stand before the One who
raised me from the ground. I am faint from hunger, for I have eaten
nothing since I left the shell in the bank of the river."
"Look, Wasbashas," said the spirit, as he drew forth a beautiful bow
and arrow. Putting an arrow into the bow, he aimed at a bird in a tree
near by. He shot, and the bird fell. A deer passed just then, and the
spirit shot it, also.
"Now, Wasbashas," said the spirit, "I shall show you how to skin this
deer, and show you how to make a blanket. Then you must learn to cook
the flesh. I shall give you the gift of fire. For now that you are a
man, you must not eat raw food. You shall be placed at the head of all
the animals and birds."
After the spirit had shown him the things he had promised, both horse
and rider arose in the air and vanished.
Wasbashas walked on down the river until he came to a place where a
beaver was lying.
"Good-day," said the beaver. "Who are you?"
"I am a man. The Great Spirit raised me from a shell, and now I am
head of all the animals. And who are you?"
"I am a beaver. Will you come with me until I show you how we build
Wasbashas followed the beaver and watched him cut down a tree with his
teeth. Then the animal showed him how they dammed up the river, by
letting the trees fall across it and filling the spaces between with
mud and leaves.
"Now will you come and visit my lodge?" said the beaver chief. He led
Wasbashas to his neat lodge made of clay and shaped like a cone. The
floor was carpeted with mats. The beaver's wife and daughter received
the stranger kindly. They busied themselves getting a meal ready, and
soon brought dishes of peeled poplar and alder bark. Wasbashas did not
like the taste of it, but managed to eat a few pieces. The beavers
seemed to enjoy the meal very much.
Wasbashas had been watching the daughter, and he liked her nice, tidy
ways and the respect she showed her father. In the evening he asked
the chief if he would give the maiden to him for his bride. The chief
was very pleased at the idea, for he liked Wasbashas.
The beaver invited all the animals to the feast, which was to be held
the next day. Early the following morning they began to arrive. First
came the beavers, each bringing a present of a lump of clay on his flat
tail. Next came the otters, each bringing a large fish in his mouth.
Later in the morning came the minks, the water-rats, and the weasels,
all very proud to accept the invitation of the great chief of the
When the animals had all assembled, the beavers held a council among
themselves. After talking for some time they invited the other animals
to follow them. And going a short distance down the river bank, they
stopped. Each beaver took the lump of clay he had brought with him and
placed it near the water's edge. Then they began to build a
dome-shaped lodge of small pieces of trees and the clay. After several
hours of steady work it was finished, and then they went to the chief's
lodge, where the feast was to be held.
When the meal was over the snail man and the beaver maiden were led to
their lodge, which was the wedding-gift of the beavers. Here they
lived happy ever after. Many years later their descendants were called
the Osages tribe of Indians.
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