The Giant With The Grey Feathers

: Canadian Fairy Tales

Once long ago, when the Blackfeet Indians dwelt on the Canadian

plains, there was a great famine in all the land. For many months no

buffaloes were killed, and there was no meat to be had at any price.

One by one the old people dropped off because of a lack of food, and

the young children died early because there was no nourishment, and

there was great sorrow everywhere. Only the strong women and the

r warriors remained alive, but even they gradually grew weaker

because of the pinch of the hunger sent into the land by famine. At

last the Chief of the tribe prayed that the Great Chieftain of the

Indians might come into his territory to tell the people what to do to

save themselves.

The Great Chief was at that time far away in the south country where

the warm winds were blowing and the flowers were blooming. But one

night he heard the Chief's prayer borne to him on the winds, and he

hastened northward, for he knew that his people on the plains were

somehow in dire distress. Soon he arrived at the village of the hungry

tribe. "Who has called me here?" he asked. "It was I," answered the

Chief. "My people are all starving because there are no buffaloes in

the country, and if you had not come we should soon have all

perished." Then the Great Chief looked upon his people and he noticed

that the old folks and the little children had disappeared; only a few

children were left and they had pinched cheeks and sunken eyes. And he

took pity on them and said, "There is a great thief not far distant.

He is probably a wicked giant, and he has driven all the buffaloes

away. But I will find him and soon you shall have food." And the

people were all comforted, for they knew that the Great Chief would

keep his word.

Then the Chief took with him the young Chief's son and set out on his

quest. The people wanted to go with him, but he said, "No! We shall go

alone. It is a dangerous duty, and it is better that, if need be, two

should die in the attempt, than that all should perish." They

journeyed westwards across the prairies towards the Great Water in the

West, and as they went, the youth prayed to the Sun and the Moon and

the Morning Star to send them success. Soon they came to the rolling

foot-hills covered with sweet-grass and scrubby pine. But still they

saw no signs of buffalo. At last they reached a narrow stream, on the

bank of which they saw a house with smoke coming from the chimney.

"There is the cause of all our troubles," said the Chief. "In that

house dwells the giant Buffalo-thief and his wife. They have driven

all the animals from the prairies until not one is left. My magic

power tells me it is so!" Then by his magic power he changed his

companion into a sharp-pointed straight stick, while he himself took

the shape of a dog, and they lay on the ground and waited.

Soon the giant and his wife and their little son came along. The boy

patted the dog on the head, and said, "See what a nice dog I have

found. He must be lost. May I take him home?" His father said, "No, I

do not like his looks. Do not touch him." The boy cried bitterly, for

he had long hoped for a dog of his own, and his mother pleaded for him

so hard that at last the giant father said, "Oh, very well. Have your

own way, but no good can come of it." The woman picked up the stick

and said, "I will take this nice straight stick along with me. I can

dig roots with it to make medicine." So they all went to the giant's

house, the giant frowning angrily, the woman carrying the stick, and

the boy leading the dog.


The next morning the giant went out and soon came back with a fat

young buffalo, all skinned and ready for cooking. They roasted it on a

spit over the fire and had a good meal. The boy fed some meat to the

dog, but his father, when he saw what the boy was doing, beat him

soundly, and said, "Have I not told you the dog is an evil thing? You

must not disobey me." But again the woman pleaded for her boy, and the

dog was fed. That night when all the world was asleep, the dog and the

stick changed back to their human form and had a good supper of what

was left of the buffalo-meat. And the Chief said to the youth, "The

giant is the Buffalo-thief who keeps the herds from coming to the

prairies. It is useless to kill him until we have found where he has

hidden them." So they changed back to the shapes of dog and stick and

went to sleep.

The next morning the woman and her boy set off to the forest near the

mountain, to gather berries and to dig up medicine roots. They took

the dog and the stick with them. At noon, after they had worked for

some time, they sat down to have their luncheon. The woman threw the

stick down on the ground, and the boy let the dog run away among the

shrubs. The dog wandered to the side of the mountain. There he found

an opening like the mouth of a cave. Peering into the place he saw

many buffaloes within, and he knew that at last he had found the

hiding place of the giant's plunder. He went back to the woman and the

boy and began to bark. This was the signal agreed on with his

companion. The woman and her son thought he was barking at a bird, and

they laughed at his capers as he jumped about. But he was in reality

calling to his comrade. The stick understood the call and wiggled like

a snake through the underbrush to the dog's side, unseen by the boy

and his mother. They then entered the large cave in the side of the

mountain, and there they found a great herd of buffaloes--all the

buffaloes that had been driven from the prairies. The dog barked at

them and snapped at their heels, and the stick beat them, and they

began to drive them quickly out of the cavern and eastward toward the

plains. But they still kept the shape of dog and stick. When evening

came, and it was time for the boy and his mother to go home, the boy

searched for the dog and the woman looked for her stick, but they

could not find them, and they had to go home without them.

Just as the woman and her son reached their house on the bank of the

river, the giant-thief was coming home too. He chanced to look to the

east, and there he saw, far away, many buffaloes running towards the

foot-hills where the sweet-grass grew. He was very angry, and he cried

loudly to his son, "Where is the dog? Where is the dog?" "I lost him

in the underbrush," said the boy; "he chased a bird and did not come

back." "It was not a bird he chased," said the giant; "it was one of

my buffaloes. I told you he was an evil thing and not to touch him,

but you and your mother would have your way. Now my buffaloes are all

gone." He gnashed his teeth in a great rage, and rushed off to the

hidden cave to see if any buffaloes were left, crying as he went, "I

will kill the dog if I find him." When he reached the cave the Chief

and the youth, still in the form of a dog and a stick, were just

rounding up the last of the buffaloes. The giant rushed at them to

kill the dog and to break the stick, but they sprang upon an old

buffalo and hid in his long hair and, clinging on tightly, the dog bit

the buffalo until the old animal plunged and roared and rushed from

the cave, bearing the Chief and the youth concealed on his back. He

galloped eastward until he reached the herd far away on the prairie,

leaving the giant far behind to make the best of his anger. Then the

Chief and the brave youth took their old form of men, and in high

spirits they drove the herd of buffaloes back to their hungry people

waiting patiently on the plains.

The people were very pleased to see the Great Chief and the youth

returning to the village with the great herd of fat buffaloes, for

they knew now that the famine was ended. But as they drove the animals

into a great fenced enclosure, a large grey bird flew over their heads

and swooped down upon them and pecked at them with its bill, and tried

to frighten them and drive them away. The Great Chief knew by his

magic power that the grey bird was none other than the giant-thief who

had stolen the buffaloes, and who had changed himself into a bird to

fly across the prairies in pursuit of them. Then the Chief changed

himself into an otter and lay down on the bank of the stream,

pretending to be dead. The grey bird flew down upon him, for he

thought he would have a good meal of fat otter. But the Chief seized

him by the leg, and changing back to his own form, he bore him in

triumph to his camp. He tied him up fast to the smoke-hole of his tent

and made a great fire inside. The giant cried, "Spare me, spare me,

and I shall never do you more harm." But the Chief left him on the

tent pole all night long while the black smoke from the fire poured

out around him. In the morning his feathers were all black. Then the

Chief let him down. And he said, "You may go now, but you will never

be able to resume your former shape. You will henceforth be a raven, a

bird of ill-omen upon the earth, an outlaw and a brigand among the

birds, despised among men because of your thefts. And you will always

have to steal and to hunt hard for your food." And to this day the

feathers of the raven are black, and he is a bird of ill-omen upon the

earth because of his encounter with the Great Chieftain long ago.