This is the story of the Little Mouse who became one of the greatest Chiefs of the Indian Nations. It has been handed down from one generation to the next and it is, as far as anyone knows, a true story.
Now, most people don't know it, but Indian Braves generally have at least two names. There is the name that their father gives them at birth and then their is the name that the Chief or the Tribal Elders give them upon completion of their "Trials of Manhood". The Trials are not as tough as most people think. Oh sure, being able to survive in the woods with nothing but a loin cloth and a knife sounds tough.
But, when you realize that Indian boys don't have the same kind of schooling that us white folks do, you realize that it isn't tough at all. You see, Indian schooling is done in the woods, not a school house. And they aren't taught Reading, Writing and Arithmetic. They're taught Fighting, Hunting and Living off the land. Just about from the time they can walk and talk, they're being taught the things they need to know to be able to pass the Trials.
Now a lot of Indian boys have a third name. A name that the peers give them, just like what we call a Nick Name. And, just like with us, not all of these nick names are flattering. And sometimes, these names stick. That was the case with Little Mouse. You see, he was kind of sickly as a baby. And, even when he got better, because of being sick for so long he was kind of puny. It also caused him to be behind in his schooling. So he ended up getting teased a lot. Eventually, just about everyone in the tribe was calling him Little Mouse. His Momma and Daddy were probably the only ones who even remembered his rightful name.
Now Little Mouse's Granddaddy was a wise and powerful Shaman. And he told Little Mouse not to worry about what folks called him today, because he could see into the future. And he told Little Mouse that one day, sooner that he thought, people would call him by a new name. A name of power and respect. A name that would be remembered for all time. Well, Little Mouse loved his Granddaddy and he knew how powerful the old man was. But it didn't help a whole lot when the other boys took to teasing him, like they always did.
The day came when the group of boys that Little Mouse was in were ready to go on their first overnight camp out. The leader, an older brave assigned to teach the boys, brought along his bow - just in case. They weren't planning on hunting anything much bigger that rabbits, but there was bigger game in those woods from time to time. The boys didn't need bows because he was planning on teaching them how to use snares and traps to catch rabbits. Each boy was to bring with him a half pound of jerky, a blanket and a knife, if he had one. Everything else they needed, the leader told them, was already in the woods. And he would show them how to find it or make it.
Every other boy showed up with a shiny, brand new steel knife. Knives that their Daddies had traded with the white men to get for them. But Little Mouse's family was poor and his Daddy couldn't afford to trade to get Little Mouse a new knife. He told Little Mouse that he would just have to make this trip without a knife. Little Bear understood, he knew his father had tried his best to get him a knife.
As he was leaving his lodge, Little Mouse saw his Granddaddy He went over to his Grandaddy's lodge to say so long and his Granddaddy noticed that Little Mouse had no knife. When he asked Little Mouse about it, he told his Granddaddy the truth, that his Daddy didn't have one to spare. Well Granddaddy told him to hang on a minute and he went inside his lodge. When he came back out he was carrying a stone knife, beautifully made but very old. He explained to Little Mouse that his own Granddaddy (Little Mouse's Great Great Granddaddy) had made it for him to use on his first hunt. He also told Little Mouse that his Granddaddy had been a great Shaman. And that the old stone knife was magical. Little Mouse gratefully took the knife and ran off to join the rest of the group. Naturally, when the other boys saw Little Mouse's stone knife, they teased him about it. Bragging about their shiny, steel knives. Little Mouse tried to tell them that it was magical, but that only got him teased even more.
The Leader hushed up the boys and told them to stop teasing Little Mouse. Then he told them what they were going to do. First, they would hike as far as they could before the sun got down to three fingers above the horizon. Then they would make camp and hunt for their dinner. In the morning, they would again hunt for their breakfast and then hike back home. And, all along the way out and back, as well as at camp tonight, he'd be teaching them woodlore and survival skills. The jerky, he told them, was walking food. He didn't plan on stopping for lunch, they would just nibble the jerky as they walked. But he cautioned them to save some of the jerky for the hike back and to save some more in case they were unsuccessful in hunting up dinner or breakfast.
So they hiked off into the woods on their big adventure. And, of course boys being boys in any tribe, they didn't head the warning of their teacher. They all started in munching on their jerky almost before they left the village. By the time the sun was getting down to three fingers, most of them had very little jerky left. The leader knew what they were doing, but he didn't stop them. See, he knew that Experience was the best teacher. And if they went hungry this time - so be it. Next time, when they'd be out for more than just one night, they'd all know better. And he figured they'd go hungry tonight and probably in the morning too. It was getting on near fall and most of the game was already moving south or holing up in their dens. The hunting was already getting tough for experienced braves. He knew the boys would be lucky if they caught even one rabbit or squirrel. It was kind of a dirty trick to play on the boys, but they'd learn a lesson that might keep them alive someday.
It was getting on towards evening and the leader told them to keep an eye out for a good spot to camp. Little Mouse was bringing up the rear, his legs being a might shorter and all. Now I don't know if Little Mouse's eyes were better than everybody else's. Or if he was just being more observant. Or maybe it was some of the magic on his Grandaddy's stone knife that did it. But what ever it was, Little Mouse spotted something that the rest had missed. Just a few yards off to one side of the path was a small clearing. It was surrounded by low hanging pine trees and on the leeward side of a small hill. The clearing seemed to be just about perfect for a party their size. And the fire ring indicated that it had been used as a camping spot before.
Little Mouse hurried back out onto the path and called everybody back to see what he had found. The boys were all amazed that Little Mouse had spotted what they had all missed. The leader slapped him on the back and told him he'd done real good. Then he told the rest of the boys to drop their bedrolls cause it was up to them to hunt up dinner while Little Mouse set up camp. At this all the boys started laughing and teasing Little Mouse, calling him "Squaw Mouse" and such. Little Mouse asked the leader why he was being punished. The leader then told the other boys to hush up. First he told them never to use the word Squaw again. He told them that it was a white man's term for a woman who was soiled, a woman who was good enough to share your bed, but not good enough to share your name. It was the worst of all insults you could give a woman. Kind of like some feller saying that your Momma worked nights, above the Saloon, if you get my meaning.
Then he told Little mouse, and all of the other boys, that it wasn't a punishment - it was a privilege. A reward for finding the campsite. Yes, it was true that when the Village moved, it was the woman's duty to set up camp and so forth. But this was a hunting party and there weren't any women around. So one of the hunters had to do it. But, the reason it was a reward is that he got first pick of where he wanted to put his bedroll. And quite often, there might only be one spot that was dry and not full of rocks or burrs or ants. Not to mention a spot where you'd stay dry if it rained. Little Mouse found the campsite, so Little Mouse got to choose his spot first. After that it would go by seniority.
As the rest of the boys headed back onto the path, the leader stopped and turned to Little Mouse. He pointed out a tree part way up the hill and he told Little Mouse that on the back side of the tree the branches touched the ground, making like a natural lean-to. And that Little mouse would find a stash of dry wood underneath it, along with plenty of dry pine needles for kindling to start a fire. Then he smiled at Little Mouse before he turned to follow the rest of the boys. It was obvious that he had camped there many times before and was pointing out the best spot for Little Mouse to set up his bedroll. Sure enough, under that old tree was plenty of firewood and the perfect spot for a bedroll or two.
It was already dark before the boys got back. Their hunt hadn't been very successful. They had only managed to catch one stringy old jack rabbit. The leader used it to make a stew, along with what little jerky the boys still had. It wasn't much for dinner, but it was all they had. Afterward, they sat around the campfire and listened while the leader told them stories, about the Great Father, Mother Earth and about the many wise and powerful braves that had come from their tribe. Finally they all drifted off to sleep.
In the morning, Little Mouse and the leader rose from their snug, dry bedrolls. All of the other boys had camped around the fire, thinking that would keep them warm and dry. But, nobody got up to feed the fire during the night. And, sure enough, it went out. So they were all cold and wet, and not very happy about it. They were also hungry. But they had no food left. Obviously, they were going to have to hunt for their breakfast.
Now they hadn't had too much luck hunting as a group the night before, so the boys all wanted to split up and hunt by themselves. The leader wasn't too keen on this idea. But the boys kept on pestering him. And finally he just gave in. He figured they were gonna have to learn to hunt on their own sooner or later. And besides, they were still pretty close to the village. Their weren't a lot of dangerous animals around. Or enemies either. So what the heck, he'd let them try. How much trouble could they get into anyway. Little did he know . . .
He cautioned them to say close to camp, blaze their trail and stay in the woods. He told them that, about half a mile down the trail, the woods began to peter out and turn into open prairie. And, even this close to the village, the prairie could be dangerous. There was no cover and, if there were any enemies around, the boys would be easy to spot. And be very easy targets. Beside, with the buffalo herd already moving south for winter, there wouldn't be any game there anyhow.
Well, the boys all scattered into the woods, mostly up toward the village. But Little Mouse figured, since they were all going up, he'd go down. He still had a good half mile of woods to hunt in. And, with all the noise the other boys were making, he'd figured he'd have a better chance that way.
Well, it didn't. There wasn't any game down the hill either. So, when Little Mouse got to the edge of the prairie, he was disappointed. He was about to turn back to camp when he saw an interesting rock off in the distance. It was a big old rock that looked kind of like one of the strange animals his Granddaddy was always drawing. He wanted to get a closer look at it. He knew he wasn't supposed to go out into the open, but his curiosity got the better of him. He decided to go look at it anyway.
But, as he was walking around it looking it over, he suddenly found himself face to face with a big old bull buffalo! His first thought was "I thought the herd had moved on. What in the world is this old bull doing here?" His second though was "RUN!!!" And it was a good thing too, because that old bull wasn't having any second thoughts. He just put his head down, snorted a few times and began to paw the ground! Little Mouse took off lickety split, like a jack rabbit, with that buffalo hot on his heels! Fortunately for Little Mouse, he could run fast enough to stay ahead of the bull, but just barely. And he knew that the bull could outlast him. But he figured, once he made it back into the woods, he'd be safe enough.
It was just about then that Little Mouse realized that the woods were the other way. And he knew that old buffalo wasn't about to stop and let him turn around. Little mouse figured he was a goner for sure, but he wasn't ready to give up yet!
Maybe it was the magic from his Grandaddy's knife. Or maybe it was just Little Mouse's good luck. But off in the distance he spied a tree! A single old, dead pine tree just sitting out in the middle of the prairie. Well, Little Mouse didn't stop to question it, he just headed for that tree, hoping he didn't run out of luck.
Running as fast as he could, Little Mouse just barely made it to the tree ahead of the buffalo. But, as he scrambled up the tree, it seems his luck ran out. The tree was right on the edge of an old wash, a dried up stream. If that buffalo didn't stop in time, he'd go right down into the wash and at least break a leg, if not his neck. Unfortunately the buffalo skidded to a stop just before he slid over the edge. Then he stood there, looking up at Little Mouse, waiting for him to come back down again. Little Mouse had never heard of a brave being tree'd by a buffalo before. Of course, with as embarrassed as he felt right then, he could understand why, if it had happened before, nobody had ever talked about it.
Well Little Mouse figured that he might just as well get comfortable. He figured that, sooner or later, that old bull would get bored and wander off. Then he could jump down and run straight back to camp. But, the buffalo had other ideas. You see, he decided to get comfortable too. And he just sat right down, under that tree, and waited. The two of them just settle in and began to see who could out stubborn the other.
After a couple of hours, Little Mouse's luck came back again. You see, the reason that bull had stayed behind was that he was old. Too old to make the journey south with the rest of the herd. So they had just left him behind. Which was probably why he was also so cranky. And, after a couple hours of sitting there, he suddenly decided to take a nap. So sudden in fact that Little Mouse didn't notice it right away, because the old bull fell asleep sitting up. Little Mouse had seen that happen to his Granddaddy before.
Not being one to let an opportunity slip by, Little Mouse snuck down out of the tree and ran all the way back to camp. Where the leader was waiting for him. And none to happy about him being gone so long. Little Mouse had planned on keeping quiet about the whole thing, to save himself some embarrassment. But when the leader pressed him about what had taken so long, he cracked and told him everything. Needless to say, Little Mouse was in a bit of hot water. Now, all of the other boys heard the story and, surprisingly enough, they didn't start to tease Little Mouse about it. Instead, they started asking questions. Questions like was the buffalo still there and did Little Mouse think he was still asleep. You see, these boys hadn't eaten since dinner last night. And they were firmly convinced that they were just about to starve to death. And they wanted to go after that buffalo. They weren't thinking about his horns or hooves (or any of the other things that make buffalo hunting dangerous). They were just thinking about food!
At first, the leader wasn't going to let them go after it. He knew they were only a few hours from the village. And, no matter what the boys thought, they were in no danger of starving to death. But then Little Mouse had an idea. He figured if he could get that bull to chase him again, he could run right for that tree again. And this time, the rest of them could run along to make sure he didn't stop before he went over the cliff. And if he did, there were enough of them to give him a push! Maybe it was his own hunger, or maybe it was the mutinous looks in the boys eyes that convinced him, but the leader gave in. They were going on a buffalo hunt with a dozen boys armed only with knives and one bow and arrow. It was so crazy it had to work!
So, they crept down to the edge of the prairie and looked over at the old tree. But there was no sign of the buffalo. Then Little Mouse looked over at the rock, where he had first seen him. And sure enough, there he was, sniffing the ground like a hound dog looking for a scent. Little Mouse told the rest of them to get ready and he headed out into the open. As soon as he was well clear of the woods, he started hollering and jumping around like his pants was on fire! It didn't take long before that old buffalo saw him. Just like before, he put his head down and began to charge at Little Mouse. And, just like before, Little Mouse headed for that old tree. Only this time, he had a head start and he easily made to the tree.
Too easily in fact. He made it into the tree well before the buffalo got there. And, this time, the buffalo had no trouble stopping before the cliff. Well before the cliff, maybe 8 or 10 feet. Too far for the rest of the boys to push him over. But they didn't realize that in time. They came running up anyway. But just as they were almost on top of him, he turned and saw them. They all froze in their tracks, most of them too scared to even run. That old buffalo started stomping and snorting, trying to decide which one he was going to run down first. And Little Mouse knew, whichever one he picked was a goner for sure. The one and only thing Little Mouse could do better than the other boys in the village was run. He was the fastest runner of them all. And he had just barely out run the buffalo. So he knew nobody else could. He didn't know what to do. Even though they had all teased him, he couldn't let them get run down and stomped by a buffalo.
As any soldier can tell you, the difference between fear and bravery is mighty slim. Little Mouse pulled out his Grandaddy's stone knife and dropped down right on that buffalo's back. He didn't have any hope that he could hurt the buffalo, but he hoped to distract him long enough for the rest of them to get away. But Little Mouse found out that day that his Granddaddy didn't tell tall tales. He raised that stone knife and plunged it down into the buffalo's back. And that stone knife just sliced through that tough old hide like a hot knife through soft butter. It cut through it better than any steel knife could have. The knife was magical, just like his Granddaddy had said!
That old bull bellowed and bucked. He tried everything to shake Little Mouse off. But Little Mouse hung on through it all! Again and again Little Mouse stabbed that old bull, until finally it fell over dead! Little Mouse jumped up and gave a triumphant war whoop! He had killed his first buffalo! He was a hunter!
Just about then, two older braves from the tribe rode up. When the boys didn't return on time, these braves had been sent out to look for them. They went up to Little Mouse and clapped him on the back. They had seen the whole thing. They cut out the buffalo's liver and gave it to Little Mouse to eat, something which only the braves of the tribe were allowed to do. Then they thanked the buffalo's spirit for dying so they could live. Finally they cut some branches and rigged a travois between their ponies to drag the buffalo back to the village. They had Little Mouse ride on top of it, like a victorious warrior returning home. The leader and the rest of the boys followed them back to camp, cheering for Little Mouse all the way!
When they arrived back at the village, the women took the buffalo and began to skin and butcher it. As was the custom of the tribe, the meat would be shared by all. But the head and hide belonged to Little Mouse. his mother set about to tan the hide. Soon, she would make it into a robe for her son. His Granddaddy took the head. He told Little Mouse that he would make it into a War Chief's Headdress for him. When Little Mouse asked him why, Granddaddy told him that he had foreseen the future and that one day Little Mouse would be a War Chief!
As soon as they got back to the village, the two braves and the leader went to the Tribal Council to tell them what had happened. A little while later they called for Little Mouse to come to the Council lodge. The Chief asked Little Mouse to tell them the whole story, from the beginning. Naturally, Little Mouse did. He told them everything, even about going out onto the prairie when he knew it was wrong. The Council looked stern and Little Mouse was afraid. But when he got to the part where the Buffalo sat down under the tree, the Chief began to laugh. he laughed so hard tears ran down his cheeks. When Little Mouse had finished, the Chief told him that the Council would decide what to do with him and announce it that night at the campfire.
Little Mouse hardly ate any dinner that night, being worried about his punishment. But, when the time came for the Chief to announce the Council's decision, he walked like a man into the center of the circle. "Today, this boy did a very foolish thing," the Chief began "but it was also a very brave thing! Our Trials of Manhood are intended to test a boy to see if he is brave enough to become a man. But there is no test which proves that more than the test of a man who is willing to give his own life to save his brothers. Little Mouse has proven that he is a man. I shall give him a name of manhood that will remind everyone about his brave deed. From this day forward, he shall no longer be called Little Mouse. He shall be called Sitting Bull!"
And that is how a Little Mouse grew up to be one of the Greatest War Chiefs of all time!