Ted Stillwell: Water rises and recedes, and a story unfolds
I lived down in Oklahoma for about five years and got acquainted with a number of Native Americans. One of those was a fun-loving, good-natured Osage named Beaver. One night the two of us were camped out along the river and were telling stories, laughing and trying to drown a few fishing worms.
“I’ve got a little curiosity building up inside of me,” I said. “How come your mama named you Beaver?”
Very seriously he turned and told me an old Indian legend about their creation.
Long, long ago, a snail once lay on the bank of the Osage River. The river began to rise, so the snail clung to a log. The river rose higher and higher. The log began to float and the currents carried the log to a place where the Osage River flows into The River of the Golden Sands, which we know today as the Big Muddy. Then the waters began to sink and the log was stuck on a muddy bank.
The hot sun shone on the log all day long and the snail began to feel very warm, but he could not move. He thought he must surely die soon. Then all at once, his shell broke wide open. Snail raised his head out of the mud. Then he felt that he was growing. His body grew large and arms and legs grew out of it. Feet grew out of his legs and hands grew out of his arms. Toes grew out of his feet and fingers grew out of his hands. Then he was no longer a snail. In fact, he was a big strong man, over six feet tall.
At first, he was dumb and did not know anything. Soon he began to remember the place from whence he came, and thought he should go back home. He also was suddenly very hungry, but did not know how to get food.
Then the Great Spirit came to him. He handed the man a bow and some arrows, and taught him how to shoot a swift running deer. Then the Great Spirit showed the man how to take off the deer skin, build a fire, and how to cook the meat of the swift running deer, so he would no longer be hungry.
After a long walk back from whence he came, he finally stumbled upon the place where he was laying before the flood carried him down river.
Now a beaver had built his lodge on the river bank. Beaver came out and told the big strong man to go away, because the place belonged to him. The man said no, it belonged to him. He had lived here first and that made him the owner of the land. They quarreled so loudly that the beaver’s daughter heard them. She came out and proceeded to make peace between the two.
The man liked her and thought she was wise and pretty, so he said to the beaver, “The river is wide enough for both of us. Give me your daughter, and you may keep half of the land.”
The man married the beaver’s daughter and they became the first parents of the Osage Tribe. No Osage brave will ever hunt beaver, for they are his brother.
He finished by saying, “I guess my mama figured that Beaver would be a good name to keep me safe throughout life, because no bullies would ever molest an Osage named Beaver.”
The Osage ancestral homelands covered much of Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Arkansas. They called the Missouri “The River of Golden Sands, because the water is thick with sand, which gives it that rich, muddy, yellow color.
Reach Ted W. Stillwell at Ted@blueandgrey.com or 816-896-3592.