Short Stories » A Founder of Ten Towns

A Founder of Ten Towns - Page 1 of 5

UPON a grassy plateau, overlooking the flats of the Owl River, was spread out Pezpeza's town. The borders of the table-land were defined by the river's bed, and it was sufficiently high for the little inhabitants to command the valley both up and down for a considerable distance. Shungela Pahah, or Fox Ridge, stretched upward on the horizon, and the rough country back of it formed many ravines and gulches for the solitary habitations of wolves and foxes.

No prettier site could be imagined for a town of the prairie-dog people, among whom there is no more enterprising frontiersman than Pezpeza. Although it was situated in plain view of one of the large summer camps of the wild Sioux, the little people had been left unmolested. The wild men lived then in the midst of the greatest game region of the Dakotas, and, besides, they had always looked upon the little mound-builders as having once been real people like themselves.

All over the plateau, which was semicircular in form, were scattered hundreds of mounds, and on that particular morning, when the early Sioux hunter rode by upon his favorite pony, every house was alive with the inhabitants. Upon the mounds of the old deserted houses stood the faithful and good neighbor, Pezpeza ta ayanpahalah, Pezpeza's herald, the owl ; for if any house is left vacant, he immediately occupies it. Here and there, upon a sun-baked mound, lay coiled the other neighbor, Sintayhadah, the rattlesnake.

The herald had announced the coming of the wild Red man upon his hunting pony; therefore every prairie-dog had repaired to the top of the mound beside his dwelling. Some stood upon their hind-legs, that they might better see for themselves the approaching danger, and from this place of safety they all shrilly scolded the intruders; while the little herald, who had done his duty and once more fulfilled his unspoken contract with his hosts to be their scout and crier, perched calmly upon a chosen mound and made his observations.

In the middle of the town, upon a large mound, there stood an unusually large dog. When the warning was given, he had slowly dragged himself outside. His short, thick fur was much yellower than that of the others, a sign of advancing age; and while the citizens were noisy in their protests, he alone was silent. It was Pezpeza, the founder of this town and of many another, the experienced traveller. His old friend, the faithful herald, who had just given warning, perched not far away. These two had journeyed together and shared each other's hard- ships, but Pezpeza was the prime mover in it all, and there was none wiser than he among his people.

Pezpeza' s biographer and interpreter tells thus of his wonderful frontier life and adventures.

Pezpeza was one of many children of an old couple who lived upon the Missouri River bottoms. He had learned while yet small that the little prairie-owl was their very good neighbor and friend. He had repaired and occupied one of their abandoned houses. It was generally understood by the little mound -builders that this quiet, unassuming bird notifies them of approaching danger; and, having no bad habits, the prairie-dogs had tacitly accepted them as desirable and useful townsfolk. The owl, for his part, finds a more convenient home and better food in the towns than he could possibly find elsewhere, for there are plants peculiar to the situation which attract certain insects, mice, and birds, and these in turn furnish food for the owls.

Their common neighbor, the rattlesnake, lay at times under a strong suspicion of treachery, and was not liked any too well by the other two. However, the canny and cold-hearted snake had proved his usefulness beyond any doubt, and was accepted under strict and well-understood conditions. He was like the negro in the South he was permitted to dwell in the same town, but he must not associate with the other two upon equal terms. It is clear that the dog and the owl together could whip and terrorize the snake and force him to leave the premises at any time if they felt so disposed, but there is a sufficient reason for allowing him to remain. The wolf, coyote, fox, swift, and badger, all enemies of the little mound-builders, will not linger long in the neighborhood of rattlesnakes, and this is equally true of the Red hunter.

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