The Hunter and His Faithless Wife


Once on a time there was a man whose name was “Hemlock Bows.” He used to go hunting every day and always had good luck. He would kill so many deer that he could not carry them all home. One day he killed thirty deer. He was determined to carry them all home, so he took them and shook them, and shook, and shook, till they were as small as squirrels, and he carried them all home, and when he got there he shook, and shook, and shook, till they were good-sized deer again. Sometimes when he killed so many he would sit up all night to fix the skins on his wigwam so he could make clothes for himself and his children.

One day a boy was born to him; the father was very fond of him and he planted a few hills of corn and beans, but they lived mostly on meat. After the child was born the mother slept alone with it on the other side of the fireplace.

After three years more a little girl was born. After the birth of her second child the wife seemed to care no more for her husband. He was a great worker. He had a large boxful of skins all dressed for his children.

When the father went hunting the mother would call the boy and make him go and bring her some water, and she would wash and dress herself up very fine and take a long strap and an ax and leave the children alone all day until almost time for the father to come home. Then she would hurry home to cook for the man.

One night the little boy told his father all about his mother going away every day. He felt very badly when he heard it, and at once resolved to follow her the next day and find where she went. The next morning early he left the cabin and went off. The woman soon sent the boy for some water, and, after she had dressed, started with her ax and the long strap which was used in drawing wood. She passed her husband on her way but did not see him, but he tracked her very closely.

Soon she came to a large black-ash tree, which was hollow, and upon which she pounded with her ax. A very nice looking man came out of the tree to meet her. He wore a turban with bright feathers. He went up to her and kissed her, and seemed very much delighted to see her. Her husband was watching them all the time, and when the man kissed her he drew his bow and arrow and shot at the man, and the arrow went between him and the woman. She was very angry, and took a club and beat her husband till he could not see. Then she went home, put the boy and girl out in the cold and snow, and then set fire to the cabin and burned it down and went off.

Soon the father came and found the children. He felt very badly when he saw them, but he told the boy he must mind the dog, for he must go after their mother. The dog fixed the boy and the girl a house in the snow, and the next day they started on a long walk. While the boy was travelling along with his little sister on his back she saw a flock of large white turkeys, and she wanted one. The boy put her down and ran into the bushes to fond one for the little girl, but while he was after it a bear came and carried off the little girl, and the dog followed after the bear.

The boy felt very bad. He cried and cried, and wished that he might die. He tried to hang himself, but the strap broke. Then he jumped down a steep place onto a lot of stones, but still he was unhurt. He travelled on and soon came to a lake. He plunged into the water, but it was very shallow. He walked a little way, when he saw a great fish coming towards him with its great mouth wide open. Now, not far from this lake lived a woman and her daughter. They had fences of osier fixed in the lake to catch fish. In the morning the girl went out to see if there were any fish caught, and she saw a very large one. They killed and dressed it, and when they cut it up there they found the boy alive. They were very glad to find the boy, and soon he told them all about himself and his family.

Some time after this they heard that the boy’s mother was going to be married to another man. The woman told the boy she thought he had better go and kill the man and his mother. So they fixed him up and he went and found them. There were a number of cabins and between two of them was a long stick put up, and on it was an eagle, and the one that shot the eagle was to marry the woman. She was very nicely dressed and sat on a raised platform. He saw his father near her, looking very sick and sad. The boy went among the wigwams, and in one he found his sister hanging on a crane in a chimney and near her the dog. He got his father, sister, and dog away, and then went back and set fire to the cabin his mother was in. It burned so fast that she could not get out, and she died. When her head cracked open it shook the ground, and out of the ashes of his mother there rose up a screech owl. His father got well, and they all went to live with the woman and her daughter. The old man married the woman, and the boy the daughter, and so they were happy at last.

[Excerpted from: Erminie A. Smith, Myths of the Iroquois,
(Smithsonian) 1880.]


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