Indian Why Stories
Sparks from War Eagle's Lodge-Fire
Old-man, or Napa, as he was called by the Blackfeet, is an extraordinary character in Indian folklore. He appears in different guises: god or creator, fool, thief, clown. Subordinate to Manitou, the Deity, Old-man is both powerful and fallible. The world he made is marvelous but filled with mistakes. As a result, tension between the haves and have-nots explodes in Indian Why Stories. Because all creation shimmers with spirit, the consequences are cosmic.
Frank B. Linderman kept as close as possible to the Indian style of storytelling, using only the tales told him by elders of the Blackfeet, Chippewa, and Cree tribes. Indian Why Stories, originally published in 1915, recreates a cozy scene: a medicine man sits before a lodge fire relating tales of the Old days to grandchildren not ready for bed. He tells about the animal people—the deer and antelope in a foot race, the dancing fox who convulses the buffalo with laughter, the white beaver and ghost-people, the huge snake in love with the moon, the sparrow-hawk of conscience, and much more. These stories have a moral framework, revealing a reverence for life, emphasis on honesty, and lack of bigotry.
Ohio-born Frank B. Linderman (1869–1938) spent his adult life in Montana, first as a trapper and then as a publisher, politician, and businessman. He was intimately associated with the Flathead, Blackfeet, Crow, and other Indian tribes in the region. His acclaimed writing career began in middle age with Indian Why Stories.
Sidner Larson, a professor of English at the University of Oregon, is the author of Catch Colt (Nebraska 1995).