Short Stories » The River People
The River People - Page 1 of 6
AVAY up the Pipestone Creek, within sight of the Great Pipestone Quarry, lived old Chapawee and her old man Hezee, of the beaver tribe. Unlike some of their neighbors, they had emigrated from a great distance. They had, therefore, much valuable experience ; and this experience was not theirs alone it was shared with their immediate family. Hence their children and their children's children were uncommonly wise.
They had come to this country many years before, and had established their home in this ancient and much-prized resort of the two-legged tribe. Around the Pipestone Quarry the wild Red men would camp in large numbers every summer, and it seemed that the oldest beaver could not remember a time when they were not there. Their noisy ways were terrible indeed to the river people, who are a quiet folk.
It was the custom with this simple and hard-working pair to build a very warm house for themselves. In fact, they had both summer and winter homes, besides many supply and store houses. Their dam. was always in perfect order, and their part of the creek was the deepest and clearest, therefore their robe of furs was of the finest. If any of the Hezee band was ever killed by the two-legs, their fur was highly valued.
Chapawee always insisted upon two rooms in her house : one for herself and the old man, and one for her yearling children who chose to remain with them for the first winter. She always built one very large house, running deep into the bank, so that in case of overflow or freshet they would still be safe. Besides the usual supply-houses, she and her old man excavated several dining-rooms. These are simply pockets underground at the edge of the stream. In case of any danger on the surface, they could take some food from a store - house and carry it to one of these dining-rooms, where it was eaten in peace.
It was the rule with the old folks to rat, apart from their year -old children. The yearlings, on the other hand, eat all together, and have as much fun and freedom as they please. Their merriest frolics, however, are in the night, in and upon their swimming and diving pond. Here they coast rapidly head-first down a steep bank slippery with mud, lying upon their chests or sitting upon their haunches, and at times they even turn somersaults and perform other acrobatic feats. This coasting has a threefold object. It is for play and also for practice; to learn the art of sliding into deep water without unnecessary noise; and, more than all, according to the Red people, it is done for the purpose of polishing and beautifying their long, silky fur.
The beaver tribe are considered wisest of the smaller four-legged tribes, and they are a people of great common-sense. Even man gains wisdom and philosophy from a study of their customs and manners. It is in the long winter nights, as is believed and insisted upon by the wild Indians, that the beaver old folks recite their legends to their children and grandchildren. In this case it was usually Chapawee who related the traditions of her people and her own experiences, gathering about her all the yearlings and the newly married couples, who might take a notion to go off in search of a new claim, just as she and Hezee did. So it was well that they should thoroughly understand the ways and wisdom of their people.
To be sure, she had breathed it into them and fed them with it since before they could swim ; yet she knew that some things do not remain in the blood. There are certain traits and instincts that are very strong in family and tribe, because they refer to conditions that never change ; but other matters outside of these are likewise very useful in an emergency.