Story day again! Hope you all enjoy this one. It's a Blackfoot story, and it's always been one of my favorites. It's fairly obvious by the title, but this is a story of how horses came into the world.
In the days before horses a poor orphan boy lived among the Blackfoot. He was troubled because his people were starving. One day he left his camp to find food for his people. He traveled very far, and found no sign of deer nor sign of buffalo. He traveled beyond the Sweetgrass Hills to a large river,and because he had seen no food he sat down and wept for his people.
In that river lived a powerful Water Spirit, a very old man, and he heard the crying of the poor orphan boy. The Water Spirit sent his young son to find the boy and ask why he was crying. The son went to the weeping boy and told him that his father who lived in the lake wished to see him.
"But how can I go to him if he lives under the river?" the poor boy asked.
"Hold on to my shoulders and close your eyes," replied the Water Spirit's son. "Don't look until I tell you to do so."
They started into the water. As they moved along, the Water Spirit's son said to the boy: "My father will offer you your choice of the animals in this river. When he does so, be sure to choose the oldest mallard of the ducks and all its young ones."
As soon as they reached the underwater lodge of the Water Spirit, the son told the boy to open his eyes. He did so, and found himself standing before an old man with long white hair. "Sit beside me," the Water Spirit said, and then asked: "My boy, why do you come to this river crying?"
"I am a poor orphan," the boy replied. "I left my camp to find food for my starving people, and it is for them that I weep."
"Perhaps I can help you," the Water Spirit said. "You have seen all the animals on this river. They are mine to give to whom I wish. What is your choice?"
Remembering the advice of the Water Spirit's son, the boy replied: "I should thank you for the oldest mallard of the ducks and all its young ones."
"Don't take that one," the Water Spirit said, shaking his head. "It is old and of no value."
But the boy insisted. Four times he asked for the mallard, and then the Water Spirit smiled and said: "You are a wise young man. When you leave my lodge my son will take you to the edge of the river. After it is dark he will catch the mallard for you. But when you leave the river don't look back."
The boy did as he was told. The Water Spirit's son gathered some marsh grass from the edge of the river and braided it into a rope. With this rope he caught the old mallard and led it ashore. He placed the rope in the boy's hand and told him to walk on, but not to look back until sunrise. As the boy walked on toward his camp in the darkness, he heard the duck's feathers flapping on the ground. Later he could no longer hear that sound. Instead he heard the sound of heavy feet pounding on the earth behind him, and from time to time the strange cry of an animal. The braided marsh grass turned into a rawhide rope in his hand. But he did not look back until dawn. At daybreak he turned around and saw a strange animal at the end of the rope, a horse. A voice told him to mount the animal and he did so, using the rawhide rope as a bridle. By the time he reached camp, he saw many other horses following him. The people of the camp were frightened by these strange animals, but the boy told them to have no fear.
"Do not be afraid," The boy told them. "These animals will hunt with us and pull heavy loads." The Blackfoot people saw the usefulness of this new animal. It was better for carrying things than the dogs they had been using. They could ride these "elk-dogs" to where the buffalo were and hunt more easily. Horses could even carry people across water.
"They are from the water," The orphan boy explained. "That is why they are at ease in it." When the boy grew older he was made Chief of the Blackfoot people. His favorite place to sit and rest was at a tree near the water because from there he could see the horses grazing in the distance.