Short Stories » The River People
The River People - Page 4 of 6
"There were still a few large cakes of ice going down the river, and on these we con-tinned our journey, until one night our ice broke up and we were forced to swim. At last we came to a country which was just such as we would like to live in, and a stream that seemed the very one we had been dreaming about. It had good, firm banks, nice landings, and was just small enough to dam if necessary. Kamdoka and I were very happy. This stream the Red people callthe Wakpaepakshan (Bend of the River).
" It was not long before the wild men came in great numbers to this beautiful river, and they were worse than Igmu and the grizzly. With their round iron with the iron strings they caught many of the beaver neighbors. Sometimes they would come with their dogs and drive us out of our houses with dry en- trances; again, they would hide the round iron at our coasting and diving places, so that they caught many of our people. It is impossible to get away when one is bitten by one of these round irons. It was this which forced us at last to leave this lovely spot.
"While we still lived upon this stream, it came about that Kamdoka was called Hezee. His fine pair of wood-choppers had grown short and very yellow that is why he is called Hezee Yellow Teeth. Hezee and I forsook our home after our little Chapchincha was caught by the wild men. Hezee's sharp eyes discovered one of these ugly irons on our premises, and he reported it to me. I cautioned the children to be careful, and for a time they were so, but one morning my baby, my little Chapchincha, forgot, and, plunging blindly down from our landing, she was seized ! They took her away with them, and the very next night we moved from that place.
"We found the mouth of this stream and followed it up. We selected many pretty places, but they were all claimed by some of the older inhabitants. Several times Hezee fought for the right to a home, and you can see where he had an ear bitten off in one of these fights. We had no peace until we came within sight of the Pipestone Quarry. To be sure, there are many wild men here also, but they come in midsummer, when they do not kill any beaver people. We simply keep close to our homes when they are here, and they scarcely ever trouble us.
" Children, we have made many fine homes, Hezee and I. We both came from beyond the Muddy Water a very bad country. It is the country of coyotes, bears, bighorns, and the like. This is a country for our people. If any of you should be dissatisfied, or driven to leave your home, do not go beyond the .Muddy Water. Always take one of the large streams, going to the south and the sunrise of the great river.
' You see my fingers getting stubby and nailless. Hezee' s wood-choppers are no long- er sharp. His long mustache is gray now. We are getting old. But we have lived happily, Hezee and I. We have raised many beaver people. We shall hope never to go away from this place.
" Children, be true to the customs of your people. Always have good homes. First of all, you must build a strong dam then you will have deep water. You must have both underground homes and adobes. Have plenty of store-houses, well filled; and when the enemy comes to kill you, you can hold out for many days."
These were the old beaver woman's words to her young people. "Ho, ho!" they applauded her when she had done.
'You must learn all these things," said old Hezee, after his wife had done. "Al- ways gnaw your tree more on the side toward the stream, so that it will fall over the water. You should cut down the trees on the very edge of the bank. Dive to the bottom and under the bank as the tree falls. Sometimes one of us is pinned down by a branch of a fallen tree and dies there. I myself have seen this. The water is the safest place. You must never go too far away from deep water."
Up and down Pipestone Creek for four or five miles spread the community formed by Chapawee's and Hezee's descendants. There was not any large timber, only a few scattered trees here and there, yet in most places there was plenty of food, for the river people do not depend entirely upon the bark of trees for their sustenance. No village was kept in better order than this one, for it was the wisdom of Chapawee and Hezee that made it so. Summer nights, the series of ponds was alive with their young folks in play and practice of the lessons in which the old pair had such a pride. Their stream overflowed with the purest of spring water. No fish were allowed to pollute their playgrounds. The river people do not eat fish, but no fish are found in their neighborhoods. If Mr. and Mrs. Otter, with their five or six roguish children, occasionally intruded upon their domain, the men of the tribe politely re- quested them to go elsewhere. So for a long time they held sway on the Pipestone Creek, and the little beaver children dove and swam undisturbed for many summers.