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AUTUMN nights on the upper Missouri river in Montana
are indescribably beautiful, and under their spell
imagination is a constant companion to him who
lives in wilderness, lending strange, weird echoes
to the voice of man or wolf, and unnatural shapes
in shadow to commonplace forms. The moon had not yet
climbed the distant mountain range to look down on
the humbler lands when I started for War Eagle's lodge;
and dimming the stars in its course, the milky-way
stretched across the jewelled sky. "The wolf's trail,"
the Indians call this filmy streak that foretells
fair weather, and tonight it promised much,
for it seemed plainer and brighter than ever before.
"How -- how!" greeted War Eagle,
making the sign for me to be seated near him,
as I entered his lodge. Then he passed me his pipe
and together we smoked until the children came.
Entering quietly, they seated themselves in exactly the
same positions they had occupied on the previous evenings,
and patiently waited in silence. Finally War Eagle laid the
pipe away and said: "Ho! Little Buffalo Calf, throw a big
stick on the fire and I will tell you why the Kingfisher
wears a war-bonnet."
The boy did as he was bidden. The sparks jumped toward
the smoke-hole and the blaze lighted up the lodge until
it was bright as daytime, when War Eagle continued:
"You have often seen Kingfisher at his fishing along
the rivers, I know; and you have heard him laugh in
his queer way, for he laughs a good deal when he flies.
That same laugh nearly cost him his life once,
as you will see. I am sure none could see the Kingfisher
without noticing his great head-dress, but not many
know how he came by it because it happened so long ago
that most men have forgotten.
"It was one day in the winter-time when Old-man and the
Wolf were hunting. The snow covered the land and ice was
on all of the rivers. It was so cold that Old-man wrapped
his robe close about himself and his breath showed white
in the air. Of course the Wolf was not cold; wolves never
get cold as men do. Both Old-man and the Wolf were
hungry for they had travelled far and had killed no meat.
Old-man was complaining and grumbling, for his heart
is not very good. It is never well to grumble when
we are doing our best, because it will do no good and
makes us weak in our hearts. When our hearts are weak
our heads sicken and our strength goes away.
Yes, it is bad to grumble.
"When the sun was getting low Old-man and the Wolf came to
a great river. On the ice that covered the water,
they saw four fat Otters playing.
'There is meat,' said the Wolf; 'wait here and I will try
to catch one of those fellows.'
'No! No!' cried Old-man, 'do not run after the Otter on the ice,
because there are air-holes in all ice that covers rivers,
and you may fall in the water and die.'
Old-man didn't care much if the Wolf did drown.
He was afraid to be left alone and hungry in the snow, that was all.
'Ho!' said the Wolf, 'I am swift of foot and my teeth are
white and sharp. What chance has an Otter against me?
Yes, I will go,' and he did.
"Away ran the Otters with the Wolf after them,
while Old-man stood on the bank and shivered with fright
and cold. Of course the Wolf was faster than the Otter,
but he was running on the ice, remember, and slipping
a good deal. Nearer and nearer ran the Wolf.
In fact he was just about to seize an Otter,
when SPLASH!, into an air-hole all the Otters went.
Ho! the Wolf was going so fast he couldn't stop,
and SWOW! into the airhole he went like a badger after mice,
and the current carried him under the ice.
The Otters knew that hole was there. That was their
country and they were running to reach that same
hole all the time, but the Wolf didn't know that.
"Old-man saw it all and began to cry and wail as women do.
Ho! but he made a great fuss. He ran along the bank of the river,
stumbling in the snowdrifts, and crying like a woman
whose child is dead; but it was because he didn't want
to be left in that country alone that he cried,
not because he loved his brother, the Wolf.
On and on he ran until he came to a place where the
water was to swift to freeze, and there he waited and
watched for the Wolf to come out from under the ice,
crying and wailing and making an awful noise, for a man.
"Well right there is where the thing happened. You see,
Kingfisher can't fish through the ice and he knows it, too;
so he always finds places like the one Old-man found.
He was there that day, sitting on the limb of a birch-tree,
watching for fishes, and when Old-man came near to Kingfisher's
tree, crying like an old woman, it tickled the Fisher so much
that he laughed that queer, chattering laugh.
"Old-man heard him and Ho! but he was angry.
He looked about to see who was laughing at him and that
made Kingfisher laugh again, longer and louder than before.
This time Old-man saw him and SWOW! he threw his war-club
at Kingfisher; tried to kill the bird for laughing.
Kingfisher ducked so quickly that Old-man's club just grazed
the feathers on his head, making them stand up straight.
'There,' said Old-man, 'I'll teach you to laugh at me when
I'm sad. Your feathers are standing up on the top of your
head now and they will stay that way, too. As long as you
live you must wear a head-dress, to pay for your laughing,
and all your children must do the same.
"This was long, long ago, but the Kingfishers have not forgotten,
and they all wear war-bonnets, and always will as long as there
are Kingfishers.