This happened long ago. In those days the people were hungry. No buffalo nor antelope were seen on the prairie. The deer and the elk trails were covered with grass and leaves; not even a rabbit could be found in the brush. Then the people prayed, saying: “Oh, Old Man, help us now, or we shall die. The buffalo and deer are gone. Uselessly we kindle the morning fires; useless are our arrows; our knives stick fast in the sheaths.”
Then Old Man started out to find the game, and he took with him a young man, the son of a chief. For many days they traveled the prairies and ate nothing but berries and roots. One day they climbed a high ridge, and when they had reached the top, they saw, far off by a stream, a single lodge.
“What kind of a person can it be,” said the young man, “who camps there all alone, far from friends?”
“That,” said Old Man, “is the one who has hidden all the buffalo and deer from the people. He has a wife and a little son.”
Then they went close to the lodge, and Old Man changed himself into a little dog, and he said, “That is I.” Then the young man changed himself into a root-digger, 1 and he said, “That is I.”
Now the little boy, playing about, found the dog, and he carried it to his father, saying, “Look! See what a pretty little dog I have found.” “Throw it away,” said his father; “it is not a dog.” And the little boy cried, but his father made him carry the dog away. Then the boy found the root-digger; and, again picking up the dog, he carried them both to the lodge, saying, “Look, mother! see the pretty root-digger I have found!”
“Throw them both away,” said his father; “that is not a stick, that is not a dog.”
“I want that stick,” said the woman; “let our son have the little dog.”
“Very well,” said her husband, “but remember, if trouble comes, you bring it on yourself and on our son.” Then he sent his wife and son off to pick berries; and when they were out of sight, he went out and killed a buffalo cow, and brought the meat into the lodge and covered it up, and the bones, skin and offal he threw in the creek. When his wife returned, he gave her some of the meat to roast; and while they were eating, the little boy fed the dog three times, and when he gave it more, his father took the meat away, saying, “That is not a dog, you shall not feed it more.”
In the night, when all were asleep, Old Man and the young man arose in their right shapes, and ate of the meat. “You were right,” said the young man; “this is surely the person who has hidden the buffalo from us.” “Wait,” said Old Man; and when they had finished eating, they changed themselves back into the stick and the dog.
In the morning the man sent his wife and son to dig roots, and the woman took the stick with her. The dog followed the little boy. Now, as they traveled along in search of roots, they came near a cave, and at its mouth stood a buffalo cow. Then the dog ran into the cave, and the stick, slipping from the woman’s hand, followed, gliding along like a snake. In this cave they found all the buffalo and other game, and they began to drive them out; and soon the prairie was covered with buffalo and deer. Never before were seen so many.
Pretty soon the man came running up, and he said to his wife, “Who now drives out my animals?” and she replied, “The dog and the stick are now in there.” “Did I not tell you,” said he, “that those were not what they looked like? See now the trouble you have brought upon us,” and he put an arrow on his bow and waited for them to come out. But they were cunning, for when the last animal a big bull was about to go out, the stick grasped him by the hair under his neck, and coiled up in it, and the dog held on by the hair beneath, until they were far out on the prairie, when they changed into their true shapes, and drove the buffalo toward camp.
When the people saw the buffalo coming, they drove a big band of them to the pis’kun; but just as the leaders were about to jump off, a raven came and flapped its wings in front of them and croaked, and they turned off another way.
Every time a band of buffalo was driven near the pis’kun, this raven frightened them away. Then Old Man knew that the raven was the one who had kept the buffalo cached.
So he went and changed himself into a beaver, and lay stretched out on the bank of the river, as if dead; and the raven, which was very hungry, flew down and began to pick at him. Then Old Man caught it by the legs and ran with it to camp, and all the chiefs came together to decide what should be done with it. Some said to kill it, but Old Man said, “No! I will punish it,” and he tied it over the lodge, right in the smoke hole.
As the days went by, the raven grew poor and weak, and his eyes were blurred with the thick smoke, and he cried continually to Old Man to pity him. One day Old Man untied him, and told him to take his right shape, saying: “Why have you tried to fool Old Man? Look at me! I cannot die. Look at me! Of all peoples and tribes I am the chief. I cannot die. I made the mountains. They are standing yet. I made the prairies and the rocks. You see them yet. Go home, then, to your wife and your child, and when you are hungry hunt like any one else, or you shall die.”
1: A carved and painted stick about three feet long, shaped like a sacking needle, used by women to unearth roots.]