12.THE TRIBE THAT GREW OUT OF A SHELL

Once, when the land along the Missouri River was uninhabited, except for the beaver and other animals, a snail lay asleep on the bank of the river. One day the waters began to rise, and soon came up to where he lay. They swept him out, and he was carried some miles down by the current. When the waves lowered, he found himself stuck deep in the mud. He tried to free himself, but he could not. He was hungry and tired, and at last became so discouraged that he would not try any more.

Then a strange thing happened. He felt his shell crack, and his head began to rise upright. His body and legs grew and lengthened, and at last he felt arms stretching out from his sides. Then he stood upright—a MAN.

He felt very stupid at first, but after a while some thoughts came to him. He knew he was hungry and wished he were a snail again; for he knew how to get food as a snail, but not as a man. He saw plenty of birds, but did not know how to kill them. He wandered on through the forest, until he became so tired that he lay down to rest.

He heard a gentle voice speaking to him, and looking up, he saw the Great Spirit, who was seated on a snow-white horse. His eyes shone like stars, and his hair like threads of gold.

“Wasbashas, why are you trembling?”

“I am frightened,” replied the man, “because I stand before the One who raised me from the ground. I am faint from hunger, for I have eaten nothing since I left the shell on the bank of the river.”

“Look, Wasbashas,” said the spirit, as he drew out a beautiful bow and arrow. Putting an arrow into the bow, he aimed at a bird in a tree near by. He shot, and the bird fell. A deer passed just then, and the spirit shot it, also.

“Now, Wasbashas,” said the spirit, “I shall show you how to skin this deer, and show you how to make a blanket. Then you must learn to cook the flesh. I shall give you the gift of fire. For now that you are a man, you must not eat raw food. You shall be placed at the head of all the animals and birds.”

After the spirit had shown him the things he had promised, both horse and rider arose in the air and vanished.

Wasbashas walked on down the river until he came to a place where a beaver was lying.

“Good-day,” said the beaver. “Who are you?”

“I am a man. The Great Spirit raised me from a shell, and now I am head of all the animals. And who are you?”

“I am a beaver. Will you come with me until I show you how we build our homes?”

Wasbashas followed the beaver and watched him cut down a tree with his teeth. Then the animal showed him how they dammed up the river, by letting the trees fall across it and filling the spaces between with mud and leaves.

“Now will you come and visit my lodge?” said the beaver chief. He led Wasbashas to his neat home made of clay and shaped like a cone. The floor was carpeted with mats. The beaver’s wife and daughter received the stranger kindly. They busied themselves getting a meal ready, and soon brought dishes of peeled poplar and alder bark. Wasbashas did not like the taste of it, but managed to eat a few pieces. The beavers seemed to enjoy the meal very much.

Wasbashas had been watching the daughter, and he liked her nice, tidy ways and the respect she showed her father. In the evening he asked the chief if he would give the maiden to him for his bride. The chief was very pleased at the idea, for he liked Wasbashas.

The beaver invited all the animals to the feast, which was to be held the next day. Early the following morning they began to arrive. First came the beavers, each bringing a present of a lump of clay on his flat tail. Next came the otters, each bringing a large fish in his mouth. Later in the morning came the minks, the water-rats, and the weasels, all very proud to accept the invitation of the great chief of the beavers.

When the animals had all assembled, the beavers held a council among themselves. After talking for some time they invited the other animals to follow them. And going a short distance down the river bank, they stopped. Each beaver took the lump of clay he had brought with him and placed it near the water’s edge. Then they began to build a dome-shaped home of small pieces of trees and the clay. After several hours of steady work it was finished, and then they went to the chief’s home, where the feast was to be held.

When the meal was over the snail man and the beaver maiden were led to their home, which was the wedding-gift of the beavers. Here they lived happy ever after. Many years later their descendants were called the Osages tribe of Indians.