Native American Fairy Tales

Doctor Field-Mouse

In the First Days, when the people had broken through the crust of the earth, and had come up out of their dark prison underground, and crossed Shee-p'ah-póon, the great Black Lake of Tears, they came to the shore on this side. Then it came that all the animals were made; and very soon the Coyote was sent by the Trues (all-powerful spirits) to carry a buckskin bag far south, and not to open it until he should come to the Peak of the White Clouds. For many days he ran south, with the bag on his back. But there was nothing to eat, and he grew very hungry. At last he thought: "Perhaps in this bag there is something to eat." So he took it from his back, and untied the thongs, and looked in. But there was nothing in it except the stars; and as soon as the bag was opened they all flew up into the sky, where they are to this day.

When the Trues saw that Too-wháy-deh had disobeyed, they were angry, and made it that his punishment should be to wander up and down forever, howling with toothache and finding no rest.

So Too-wháy-deh went out with his toothache, running all over the world groaning and crying; and when the other Four-feet slept he could only sit and howl. Because he came to ask the other animals if they could not cure him, they caught the toothache too; and that is the reason why they sometimes cry. But none have it like the Coyote, who can find no rest.

In those times there were no medicine-men in the world – not even of the people – and the animals found no cure.

Time passing so, it came one day that T'hoo-chée-deh, the smallest of Mice, who lives in the little mounds around the chapparo-bush, was making his road underground, when he came to a kind of root with a sweet smell. T'hoo-chée-deh was very wise; and he took the root, and put it with others in a buckskin pouch he carried under his left arm.

In a few days Kee-oo-ée-deh, the Prairie-Dog, came with his head all fat with toothache, and said:

"Friend Field-Mouse, can you not cure me of this pain? They say you are very wise with herbs."

"I do not know," answered T'hoo-chée-deh. "But we will try. For I have found a new root, and perhaps it is good."

So he mixed it with other roots, all pounded, and put it on the cheek of Kee-oo-ée-deh; and in a little, the toothache was gone.

In that time it was that there was so much toothache among the animals that the Mountain Lion, Commander of Beasts, called a council to see what should be done. When every kind of animal that walks on the ground had come, he asked each of them if they knew of a cure, but none of them knew. The Coyote was there, howling with pain; but all the other sick were at home.

At last it was the turn of the Field-Mouse, who is the smallest of all animals, and who did not wish to seem wise until all the greater ones had spoken. When the Mountain Lion said, "And thou, T'hoo-chée-deh, hast thou a cure?" he rose in his place and came forward modestly, saying: "If the others will allow me, and with the help of the Trues, I will try what I found last."

Then he drew from his left-hand bag the roots one by one; and last of all, the root of the chee-ma-hár, explaining what it had done for Kee-oo-ée-deh. He pounded it to powder with a stone, and mixed it with fat; and spreading it on flat leaves, put it to the Coyote's jaw. And in a little while the pain was gone. 

At that the Mountain Lion, the Bear, the Buffalo, and all the other Captains of Four-feet, declared T'hoo-chée-deh the Father-of-All-Medicine. They made a strong law that from that time on, the body of the Field-Mouse should be held sacred, so that no animal dares to kill him or even to touch him dead. And so it remains to this day. But only the birds and the snakes, who were not at the Council of the Four- feet, they do not respect T'hoo-chée-deh.

So the Field-Mouse was the first medicine-man. He chose one of each kind of Four-feet to be his assistants, and taught them the use of all herbs, and how to cure pain, so that each might practice among his own people – a Bear-doctor for the Bears, and a Wolf-doctor for the Wolves, and so to all the tribes of the animals.

Time passing so, it came that one day the Men of the Old made nah-kú-ah-shu, the great round-hunt. When they had made a great circle on the llano, and killed many rabbits, some of them found T'hoo-chée-deh, and made him prisoner. They brought him before their elders, who questioned him, saying:

"And how do you make a living?"

"I make it," he answered, "by going about among the animals who are sick, and curing them.'"

Then the elders said: "If that is so, teach us your Power, and we will set you free; but if not, you shall die."

T'hoo-chée-deh agreed, and they brought him to town with honor. For twelve days and twelve nights he and the men stayed shut up in the estufa; for two days fasting, and one day making the medicine-dance, and then fasting and then dancing again, as our medicine-men do to this day.

On the last night, when he had taught the men all the herbs and how to use them, and they had become wise with practice, they sent T'hoo-chée-deh out with a strong guard, so that nothing should harm him. They set him down at the door of his own house under the chapparo. A law was made, giving him full liberty of all that is grown in the fields. To this day, all True Believers honor him, so that he is not called small any more. When they sing of him in the sacred places, they make his house great, calling it koor-óo-hlee naht-hóo, the Mountain of the Chapparo. And him they call not T'hoo-chée-deh, the Field-Mouse, but Pee-íd-deh p'ah-hláh-queer, the Deer-by-the-River, that he may not seem of little honor.  For he was the Father of Medicine, and taught us how to cure the sick.

The War Dance of the Mice

Once upon a time there was war between the Tée-wahn people of Isleta and the Mice. There was a great battle in which the Tée-wahn killed many Mice and took their scalps. Then the Tée-wahn warriors returned to their village, and went into the estufa (sacred council-chamber) to prepare themselves by fasting for the great scalp-dance. While they were inside, the Mice came secretly by night to attack the town and their spies crept up to the estufa. When all the Tée-wahn warriors had fallen asleep, the Mice came stealing down the big ladder into the room. They crept  from sleeper to sleeper gnawing every bowstring and cutting the feathers from the arrows and the straps of every sling. When this was done, the Mice raised a terrible war-whoop and rushed upon the warriors, brandishing their spears. The Tée-wahn woke and caught up their bows and arrows, only to find them useless. So the warriors could do nothing but run from their tiny foes. Up the ladder to the roof they rushed pell-mell, and thence fled to their homes, leaving the Mice victorious.

The rest of the town made such fun of the warriors that they refused to return to the fight, and the elated Mice held a public dance in front of the estufa. A brave sight it was, the army of these little people, singing and dancing and waving their spears. They were dressed in red blankets, with leather leggings glistening with silver buttons from top to bottom, and gay moccasins. Each had two eagle feathers tied to the top of his spear - the token of victory. And as they danced and marched, they sang exultingly.

For four days they danced and sang, and on the night of the fourth day danced all night around a big bonfire. The next morning they marched away. That was the time when the Mice conquered men; and that is the reason why we have never been able to drive the Mice out of our homes to this

-Pueblo Folk Tales collected by Charles Lummis

The Mouse Cousins

A prairie Mouse busied herself all fall gathering beans for the winter. Every morning she was out early with her empty cast-off snake skin, which she filled with ground beans and dragged home with her teeth.

The Mouse had a cousin who was fond of chatting and dancing, but who did not like to work. She had not though to prepare for winter and had gathered no beans at all. When she came to realize her need, she found she had no packing bag. So she went to her hardworking cousin and said:

"Cousin, I have no beans stored for winter and the season is nearly gone. But I have no snake skin to gather the beans into. Will you lend me one?"

"But why have you no packing bag? Where were you in the moon when the snakes cast off their skins?"

"I was here."

"What were you doing?"

"I was busy chatting and dancing."

"And now you are punished," said the other. "It is always so with lazy, careless people. But I will let you have the snake skin. And now go, and by hard work and industry, try to recover your wasted time."

The Artichoke & the Muskrat

On the shore of a lake stood an Artichoke with its green leaves waving in the sun. Very proud of itself it was, and well satisfied with the world. In the lake below lived a Muskrat in his tepee, and in the evening as the sun set he would come out upon the shore and wander over the bank. One evening he came near the place where the Artichoke stood.

"Ho, friend," he said, "you seem rather proud of yourself. Who are you?" "I am the Artichoke," answered the other, "and I have many handsome cousins. But who are you?"

"I am the Muskrat, and I, too, belong to a large family. I live in the water. I don't stand all day in one place like a stone."

"If I stand in one place all day," retorted the Artichoke, "at least I don't swim around in stagnant water, and build my lodge in the mud."

"You are jealous of my fine fur," sneered the Muskrat. "I may build my lodge in the mud, but I always have a clean coat. But you are half buried in the ground, and when men dig you up, you are never clean."

"And your fine coat always smells of musk," jeered the Artichoke.

"That is true," said the Muskrat. "but men think well of me, nevertheless. They trap me for the fine sinew in my tail; and handsome young women bite off my tail with their white teeth and make it into thread."

"That's nothing," laughed the Artichoke. "handsome young warriors, painted and splendid with feathers dig me up, brush me off with their shapely hands and eat me without even taking the trouble to wash me off.

- Myths and Legends of the Sioux collected by Marie McLaughlinx

How Tol'-le-loo Got the Fire for the Mountain People

The Mountain People were in darkness and wanted fire but did not know either where it was or how to get it. O-lÇ-choo the Coyote tried hard to find it but did not succeed. After a while Tol'-le-loo the White-footed Mouse discovered that the Valley People had it, and was sent to steal it.

Tol'-le-loo took his flute of elderberry wood and went down into the Valley and found the big roundhouse of the Valley Chiefs, Wek'-wek the Falcon and We-pi-ah'-gah the Eagle, and began to play. They liked the music and asked him to come inside. So he went in and played for everyone gathered there. Soon they all felt sleepy. Wit'-tab-bah the Robin, keeper of the fire, was sure that Tol'-le-loo had come to steal it, so he spread himself over it in order to hide it, and the fire turned his breast red. But Tol'-le-loo kept on playing his flute - and in a little while everyone was sound asleep; even Wit'-tab-bah could not keep awake.

Then Tol'-le-loo ran up to Wit'-tab-bah and cut a little hole in his wing and crawled through and stole the fire and put it inside his flute. When he had done this he ran out with it and climbed up to the top of the high mountain called Oo'-yum-bel'-le (Mount Diablo) and made a great fire which lighted up all the country till even the blue mountains far away in the east could be seen. Before this all the world was dark.

When Wek'-wek the Falcon awoke and saw the fire on Oo'-yum-bel'-le, he knew that Tol'-le-loo had stolen it. So he pursued him and after a while caught him.

Tol'-le-loo said, "Look and see if I have the fire."

Wek'-wek looked but could not find it, for it was inside the flute, so he let Tot'-le-loo go.

Tol'-le-loo the White-footed Mouse went east into the mountains and carried the fire in his flute to the Mountain People; then he took it out of the flute and put it on the ground and covered it with leaves and pine needles and tied it up in a small bundle.

O-lÇ'-choo the Coyote smelled it and wanted to steal it. He came up and pushed it with his nose and was going to swallow it when it suddenly shot up into the sky and became the Sun.

O-lÇ'-choo sent Le'-che-che the Hummingbird after it, but she could not catch it and came back without it.

The Mountain People took the fire that was left and put it into two trees, oo'-noo the buckeye and mon'-ogo the incense cedar, where it still is and where it can be had by anyone who wants it.

Alternative version:

In the beginning the Coyote-man made the world. Then taking the Frog-man with him he set out on a raft into the east. When they reached here the Coyote-man told the Frogman to dive down and bring up some earth, which he did. From the earth that the Frog-man brought up the Coyote-man made the land. Then from the home of the Coyote-man and the Frog-man came other people, the Lizard-man, the Cougar-man, the Fox-man, the Fish-man, the Star-woman, the Grizzly-bear-woman, and many others. The Coyote-man was a witch doctor of great power, and after he had made the land so that it was good, he decided to make a perfect people to live on it.

The Coyote-man wanted to make these people like himself, but the Lizard-man said that it would never do to make people with paws like the Coyote-man as they would not have fingers with which to take hold of things. This suggestion made the Coyote-man very angry and he jumped at the Lizard-man who ran and hid in the rocks. Then they argued for a long time and the Coyote-man finally agreed that the people should have a hand with five fingers like the Lizard-man.

They then decided that as the world was dark and cold there must be light and there must be fire. So the Little-white-footed-mouse was sent to a far away land to steal the fire, which he succeeded in doing. While being pursued by the Valley-people from whom he had stolen the fire the Little-white-footed-mouse, afraid of being caught, hid the fire in the buckeye and cedar trees. From there some of the fire shot up into the sky and became the sun, so there was light and heat, but some of it remained in the trees, and ever since the people have known that by rubbing the sticks of the buckeye or cedar together, they could make fire.

The Dawn of the World: Tales of the Northern Mewuk by Merriam C. Hart

Rat & the Mountain Sheep

Rat had a home on the top of a mountain, where he built a dance corral. When he finished the corral, he invited the Mountain Sheep to come to his dance.

When they arrived, Rat picked out the largest of the Mountain Sheep and said to him, “You are my friend and I want to dance close to you.” Then he said to all the Mountain Sheep, “ Shut your eyes while you are dancing.”

Rat sang his dance song and they danced all night. When it was nearly morning, while they still had their eyes shut, Rat stabbed the big Mountain Sheep that was dancing next to him and killed him.

Then Rat shouted, “Who killed that man? It must have been someone very wicked!”

The Mountain Sheep opened their eyes and looked around. When they saw what had happened, they all began to cry. Rat was also crying as he said to the them, “Well, you people can go home now. I'll put this man into a fire and burn him up.”

The Mountain Sheep went home. Left alone, Rat skinned the Mountain Sheep and dried all the meat.

Sometime later Rat again invited the Mountain Sheep to his dance.  Once more he told the biggest one to dance close to him and the others to close their eyes. But this time the Mountain Sheep were suspicious  and told their little ones to keep their eyes open. The children watched Rat while they danced and saw him stab the big Mountain Sheep next to him. Then he ran for his bow yelling, “Where is the wicked one who is doing this stabbing?” After the Sheep had left, Rat cooked his victim.

More time passed and Rat was again out of food. The Mountain Sheep, as usual, came to his dance and closed their eyes. But this time,  the Mountain Sheep dancing next to Rat stabbed him in the belly. And that was the end of him.

- Stories of the Shoshoni collected by Julian H. Steward

How the Mouse Became Small

An boy got very angry with the sun for getting so warm and making his clothes shrink in its heat. He told his sister to make a snare. The girl took sinews from a large deer, but they shriveled under the heat. She took her own long hair and made snares, but they were burned in a moment. Then she tried the fibers of various plants and was successful. Her brother took the cord and drew it through his lips. It stretched and became a strong red cord. He pulled and it became very long. He went to the place of sunrise, fixed his snare, and caught the sun. When the sun had been sufficiently punished, the animals of the earth studied the problem of setting the sun free. At last a mouse as large as a mountain ran and gnawed the red cord. It broke and the sun moved on, but the poor mouse had been burned and shriveled into the small mouse of the present day.

- Origin unknown



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