Texts by and about Natives: Texts

13. Mourning Dove (Christine Quintasket), "Chipmunk and Owl Woman"

Mourning Dove (Humishuma) [Christine Quintasket], “Chipmunk and Owl Woman,” in Coyote Stories (Caldwell, Id.: Caxton Printers, 1933), 51-59.

Kots-se-we-ah—Chipmunk—was a little girl. She lived with her grandmother in the woods. Chipmunk liked to walk through the woods and pick berries. Some of the berries she ate, and some she put in a little basket that hung at her side. The basket was made from a deer’s hoof.

There was one berry bush that the little girl visited every day. She called it her very own. It was a seé-ah (service berry) bush.[1] She would climb into it and eat all the berries she could hold. And as she ate them she would count: “One berry ripe! Two berries ripe! Three berries ripe!”

One sun, while in the bush counting and eating berries, Chipmunk heard steps on the ground below. She looked. Standing under the bush was Sneé-nah—Owl-woman. On Owl-woman’s

1. The service berry, Amelanchier alnifolia. The fruit resembles the black currant but has a sweeter flavor. The Indians gather large quantities and sun-dry them for winter use. The berries are used also in the making of pemmican.

- page 51 -

back was a big basket, and in the basket were many little children that Owl-woman had stolen. Owl-woman traveled from camp to camp, stealing children. Whenever she got hungry she ate one or two of them.

Chipmunk was not frightened very much, for she knew that Owl-woman could not reach her up in the seé-ah bush, and Owl-woman knew that too. But Owl-woman was cunning. In her best voice, she said: “Kots-se-we-ah, your father wants you.”

“I have no father,” Chipmunk answered. “He died long ago.”

Owl-woman thought for a moment. Then she said; “Your mother wants you. She wants you to come home.”

“My mother died many snows ago,” Chipmunk replied.

“Your aunt wants you to come home.”

“I never had an aunt,” and Chipmunk laughed.

“Your uncle is looking for you,” lied Owl-woman.

“That is funny,” said Chipmunk, laughing some more. “I never had an uncle.”

“Well,” Owl-woman sighed, “your grand father wants you.”

“This is strange, for my grandfather died before I was born.”

- page 52 –

The Owl-woman said: “Your grandmother wants you at home right now!”

Chipmunk could believe that. She was silent for a little, and then she said:

“I will not come down unless you hide your eyes.”

“All right, I will hide my eyes. See! I have them covered,” and Owl-woman pretended that she had. She placed her claw-hands over them.

“I can see your big eyes blinking behind your fingers,” cried Chipmunk. “I shall not come down until you have hidden them entirely.”

Owl-woman pretended to hide her eyes entirely, but she left a small space between her finger—just a little crack to look through.

Chipmunk really thought that the eyes were covered, but she wasn’t taking any chance of being fooled. Instead of dropping from branch to branch to the ground, she jumped from the top of the bush. She jumped over Owl-woman’s head, and as she went sailing over, Owl-woman reached for her. Owl-woman’s fingers clawed down chipmunk’s back, ripping off long strips of the soft fur, but the little girl got away. Ever since that time the chipmunks have carried the marks of Owl-woman’s claws—the marks are the stripes you see on the chipmunk’s backs.

Chipmunk ran and ran, and Owl-woman followed as fast as she could.

- page 53 –

When chipmunk reached home, she was trembling and out of breath. She hardly could speak. All she could say was:

Sing-naw! Sing-naw!” (“Owl! Owl!”)

The deaf old grandmother misunderstood. “Did you step on a thorn?” she asked.

Sing-naw! Sing-naw!” Chipmunk kept repeating. She was so frightened, it was all she could say.

Only after Chipmunk had said that many times did the grandmother understand. Then she tried to hide the little girl in her bed, but Chipmunk would not keep still there. She ran around under the robes. Anyone could see she was there. So the grandmother took her out of the bed and dropped her into a berry basket. But that wouldn’t do, for Chipmunk rattled around in the basket and made a lot of noise. Then the grandmother tried to hide her in a basket of soup, and poor Chipmunk nearly drowned. She and her grandmother were in despair. They did not know what to do. Then they heard a voice—it came from a tree near the tepee. It was the voice of Wy-wetź-kula, the Tattler—Meadow Lark, who was singing:

Two little oyster shells
Hide her in!

- page 54 –

Quickly the grandmother put Chipmunk between two little oyster shells. And, knowing Meadow Lark was a gossip and a tattler, she took off her necklace and threw it to the singer. She hoped that the present would please Meadow Lark and keep her from telling where Chipmunk was hidden. Meadow Lark put on the necklace and flew away.

Soon Owl-woman came along.

“Where is the child I am hunting?” she said.

The grandmother pretended that she had not seen her grandchild, so Owl-woman began to look around. She looked in the bed, in the berry basket and in the soup. She looked everywhere she could think might be a hiding place. At last she turned to leave, and just then Meadow Lark flew back to the tree near the tepee. Meadow Lark sang:

I will tell you, if you pay me.
I will tell you, if you pay me.
Where she is! Where she is!”

Owl-woman hurried outside and threw a bright yellow vest to the Tattler, who put it on, and sang:

Two little oyster shells,
Take her out!
Two little oyster shells,
Take her out!

- page 55 –

Then Meadow Lark flew away. The necklace she was given for helping Chipmunk and the yellow vest she earned for tattling she wears to this day.

Owl-woman pushed the grandmother aside and snatched Chipmunk out of the oyster shells. With her sharp fingers she cut Chipmunk open and took out her heart and swallowed it.

Eh! Yom-yom! It is good. Little girls’ hearts are the best,” said Owl-woman, smacking her lips.

Owl-woman went her way, carrying her big basket of children. In a little while the weeping grandmother heard a familiar voice. Meadow Lark was singing again from the tree. Her song was:

Put a berry in her heart!
Put a berry in her heart!

Drying her tears, the grandmother put a half-ripe seé-ah berry in Chipmunk’s breast and sewed up the hole. The she stepped over Chipmunk three times, and Chipmunk jumped up alive as ever.

Owl-woman had not walked far when she met Coyote. He knew her—knew how wicked she was. “Sneé-nah,” he said, “I like to eat children, too. Let us travel together and we will have better luck finding them.”

- page 56 –

Owl-woman was pleased. She thought that the two of them, traveling together and helping each other, would be stronger than all of the monsters in the world. She smiled. “Yes, that is good,” she said. “Let us go together.” So they walked along like old friends.

Pretty soon Coyote said: “I am getting hungry. Here is a good place to make a fire. Let us stop here and roast those children you are carrying in the basket.”

Owl-woman said she was hungry, too, and she set her big basket on the ground. Coyote persuaded her to let all of the children out so they could do all the work of gathering wood for the fire. Coyote bossed them around, talking in a cruel talk. But to each child he whispered: “Get the wood that has the most pitch and get plenty of solid pitch. Do that if you wish to return to your parents.”

Coyote’s words made the children work hard. Soon there was a roaring fire.

“This is to be an important feast,” Coyote told Owl-woman. “You should paint your face. Paint it with charcoal and rub it with pitch. The pitch will make the charcoal stay on. Your arms should be painted the same way. The children and I will help you fix up.”

Coyote’s attention flattered Owl-woman. She

- page 57 –

let him and the children help her to prepare for the feast. They painted her arms with charcoal, and then smeared them with pitch, and she painted her face the same way.

“Now, let us roast the children,” she said.

“No, not yet,” Coyote advised. “Wait until the wood burns to red coals. That pitch smoke would spoil the taste. But we can do something while we are waiting. We can dance. Let us dance the Sun-dance. While we are having a good time, the children shall gather forked roasting sticks.”

“Good, we will dance,” said Owl-woman. “But why the forked roasting sticks?”

“Because forked sticks are better than straight ones for roasting children.”

Coyote told the children to hurry and gather forked sticks, and he and Owl-woman began to dance. They danced and danced. Owl-woman grew tired. She wanted to stop.

“Do not stop so soon,” Coyote urged. “You are a good dancer. I like to see you dance.”

Owl-woman believed those sly words. She danced harder and harder, until she staggered. Then, as if in play, Coyote shoved her, and she fell. Coyote laughed, and Owl-woman laughed, and she got up and danced again. Coyote danced beside her. And when she got close to the fire he shoved her right into the flames. He called to

- page 58 –

the children, and they brought the forked sticks which they and Coyote used to hold Owl-woman in the fire. Covered as she was with pitch, Owl-woman burned like pitchwood.

In that way perished the wicked Owl-woman. Bad persons always must pay for the evil workings of their minds.

- page 59 –

Reading the Region Home

Texts by and about Natives: Main

Texts by and about Natives: Commentary

Texts by and about Natives: Texts

Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest