The Tree-bound

: Old Indian Legends

IT was a clear summer day. The blue, blue sky dropped low over the edge

of the green level land. A large yellow sun hung directly overhead.

The singing of birds filled the summer space between earth and sky with

sweet music. Again and again sang a yellow-breasted birdie--"Koda Ni

Dakota!" He insisted upon it. "Koda Ni Dakota!" which was "Friend,

you're a Dakota! Friend, you're a Dakota!" Perchance the birdie meant
the avenger with the magic arrow, for there across the plain he strode.

He was handsome in his paint and feathers, proud with his great buckskin

quiver on his back and a long bow in his hand. Afar to an eastern camp

of cone-shaped teepees he was going. There over the Indian village

hovered a large red eagle threatening the safety of the people. Every

morning rose this terrible red bird out of a high chalk bluff and

spreading out his gigantic wings soared slowly over the round camp

ground. Then it was that the people, terror-stricken, ran screaming

into their lodges. Covering their heads with their blankets, they sat

trembling with fear. No one dared to venture out till the red eagle had

disappeared beyond the west, where meet the blue and green.

In vain tried the chieftain of the tribe to find among his warriors a

powerful marksman who could send a death arrow to the man-hungry bird.

At last to urge his men to their utmost skill he bade his crier proclaim

a new reward.

Of the chieftain's two beautiful daughters he would have his choice who

brought the dreaded red eagle with an arrow in its breast.

Upon hearing these words, the men of the village, both young and old,

both heroes and cowards, trimmed new arrows for the contest. At gray

dawn there stood indistinct under the shadow of the bluff many human

figures; silent as ghosts and wrapped in robes girdled tight about their

waists, they waited with chosen bow and arrow.

Some cunning old warriors stayed not with the group. They crouched low

upon the open ground. But all eyes alike were fixed upon the top of the

high bluff. Breathless they watched for the soaring of the red eagle.

From within the dwellings many eyes peeped through the small holes in

the front lapels of the teepee. With shaking knees and hard-set teeth,

the women peered out upon the Dakota men prowling about with bows and


At length when the morning sun also peeped over the eastern horizon at

the armed Dakotas, the red eagle walked out upon the edge of the cliff.

Pluming his gorgeous feathers, he ruffled his neck and flapped his

strong wings together. Then he dived into the air. Slowly he winged his

way over the round camp ground; over the men with their strong bows and

arrows! In an instant the long bows were bent. Strong straight arrows

with red feathered tips sped upward to the blue sky. Ah! slowly moved

those indifferent wings, untouched by the poison-beaked arrows. Off to

the west beyond the reach of arrow, beyond the reach of eye, the red

eagle flew away.

A sudden clamor of high-pitched voices broke the deadly stillness of

the dawn. The women talked excitedly about the invulnerable red of the

eagle's feathers, while the would-be heroes sulked within their wigwams.

"He-he-he!" groaned the chieftain.

On the evening of the same day sat a group of hunters around a bright

burning fire. They were talking of a strange young man whom they spied

while out upon a hunt for deer beyond the bluffs. They saw the stranger

taking aim. Following the point of his arrow with their eyes, they

beheld a herd of buffalo. The arrow sprang from the bow! It darted into

the skull of the foremost buffalo. But unlike other arrows it pierced

through the head of the creature and spinning in the air lit into the

next buffalo head. One by one the buffalo fell upon the sweet grass they

were grazing. With straight quivering limbs they lay on their sides. The

young man stood calmly by, counting on his fingers the buffalo as they

dropped dead to the ground. When the last one fell, he ran thither and

picking up his magic arrow wiped it carefully on the soft grass. He

slipped it into his long fringed quiver.

"He is going to make a feast for some hungry tribe of men or beasts!"

cried the hunters among themselves as they hastened away.

They were afraid of the stranger with the sacred arrow. When the

hunter's tale of the stranger's arrow reached the ears of the chieftain,

his face brightened with a smile. He sent forth fleet horsemen, to learn

of him his birth, his name, and his deeds.

"If he is the avenger with the magic arrow, sprung up from the earth out

of a clot of buffalo blood, bid him come hither. Let him kill the red

eagle with his magic arrow. Let him win for himself one of my beautiful

daughters," he had said to his messengers, for the old story of the

badger's man-son was known all over the level lands.

After four days and nights the braves returned. "He is coming," they

said. "We have seen him. He is straight and tall; handsome in face, with

large black eyes. He paints his round cheeks with bright red, and wears

the penciled lines of red over his temples like our men of honored rank.

He carries on his back a long fringed quiver in which he keeps his magic

arrow. His bow is long and strong. He is coming now to kill the big red

eagle." All around the camp ground from mouth to ear passed those words

of the returned messengers.

Now it chanced that immortal Iktomi, fully recovered from the brown

burnt spots, overheard the people talking. At once he was filled with a

new desire. "If only I had the magic arrow, I would kill the red eagle

and win the chieftain's daughter for a wife," said he in his heart.

Back to his lonely wigwam he hastened. Beneath the tree in front of his

teepee he sat upon the ground with chin between his drawn-up knees. His

keen eyes scanned the wide plain. He was watching for the avenger.

"'He is coming!' said the people," muttered old Iktomi. All of a sudden

he raised an open palm to his brow and peered afar into the west. The

summer sun hung bright in the middle of a cloudless sky. There across

the green prairie was a man walking bareheaded toward the east.

"Ha! ha! 'tis he! the man with the magic arrow!" laughed Iktomi. And

when the bird with the yellow breast sang loud again--"Koda Ni Dakota!

Friend, you're a Dakota!" Iktomi put his hand over his mouth as he threw

his head far backward, laughing at both the bird and man.

"He is your friend, but his arrow will kill one of your kind! He is a

Dakota, but soon he'll grow into the bark on this tree! Ha! ha! ha!" he

laughed again.

The young avenger walked with swaying strides nearer and nearer toward

the lonely wigwam and tree. Iktomi heard the swish! swish! of the

stranger's feet through the tall grass. He was passing now beyond the

tree, when Iktomi, springing to his feet, called out: "How, how, my

friend! I see you are dressed in handsome deerskins and have red paint

on your cheeks. You are going to some feast or dance, may I ask?" Seeing

the young man only smiled Iktomi went on: "I have not had a mouthful of

food this day. Have pity on me, young brave, and shoot yonder bird for

me!" With these words Iktomi pointed toward the tree-top, where sat

a bird on the highest branch. The young avenger, always ready to help

those in distress, sent an arrow upward and the bird fell. In the next

branch it was caught between the forked prongs.

"My friend, climb the tree and get the bird. I cannot climb so high. I

would get dizzy and fall," pleaded Iktomi. The avenger began to scale

the tree, when Iktomi cried to him: "My friend, your beaded buckskins

may be torn by the branches. Leave them safe upon the grass till you are

down again."

"You are right," replied the young man, quickly slipping off his

long fringed quiver. Together with his dangling pouches and tinkling

ornaments, he placed it on the ground. Now he climbed the tree

unhindered. Soon from the top he took the bird. "My friend, toss to

me your arrow that I may have the honor of wiping it clean on soft

deerskin!" exclaimed Iktomi.

"How!" said the brave, and threw the bird and arrow to the ground.

At once Iktomi seized the arrow. Rubbing it first on the grass and then

on a piece of deerskin, he muttered indistinct words all the while.

The young man, stepping downward from limb to limb, hearing the low

muttering, said: "Iktomi, I cannot hear what you say!"

"Oh, my friend, I was only talking of your big heart."

Again stooping over the arrow Iktomi continued his repetition of charm

words. "Grow fast, grow fast to the bark of the tree," he whispered.

Still the young man moved slowly downward. Suddenly dropping the arrow

and standing erect, Iktomi said aloud: "Grow fast to the bark of the

tree!" Before the brave could leap from the tree he became tight-grown

to the bark.

"Ah! ha!" laughed the bad Iktomi. "I have the magic arrow! I have the

beaded buckskins of the great avenger!" Hooting and dancing beneath the

tree, he said: "I shall kill the red eagle; I shall wed the chieftain's

beautiful daughter!"

"Oh, Iktomi, set me free!" begged the tree-bound Dakota brave. But

Iktomi's ears were like the fungus on a tree. He did not hear with them.

Wearing the handsome buckskins and carrying proudly the magic arrow in

his right hand, he started off eastward. Imitating the swaying strides

of the avenger, he walked away with a face turned slightly skyward.

"Oh, set me free! I am glued to the tree like its own bark! Cut me

loose!" moaned the prisoner.

A young woman, carrying on her strong back a bundle of tightly bound

willow sticks, passed near by the lonely teepee. She heard the wailing

man's voice. She paused to listen to the sad words. Looking around she

saw nowhere a human creature. "It may be a spirit," thought she.

"Oh! cut me loose! set me free! Iktomi has played me false! He has made

me bark of his tree!" cried the voice again.

The young woman dropped her pack of firewood to the ground. With her

stone axe she hurried to the tree. There before her astonished eyes

clung a young brave close to the tree.

Too shy for words, yet too kind-hearted to leave the stranger

tree-bound, she cut loose the whole bark. Like an open jacket she drew

it to the ground. With it came the young man also. Free once more, he

started away. Looking backward, a few paces from the young woman, he

waved his hand, upward and downward, before her face. This was a sign of

gratitude used when words failed to interpret strong emotion.

When the bewildered woman reached her dwelling, she mounted a pony and

rode swiftly across the rolling land. To the camp ground in the east, to

the chieftain troubled by the red eagle, she carried her story.