STORY-TELLING TIME – Stories the Iroquois Tell Their Children by Mabel Powers

The old-time Indians say that long, long ago, the Little People made a law that stories must not be told in summer.

Summer is the time for work. Bees must store their honey. Squirrels must gather their nuts. Men must grow their corn. Trees and plants must leaf, and flower, and bear their fruit.

If stories were told, plants, birds, animals, and men would stop their work to listen. This would mean poor crops and hungry people. Animals would forget to grow their winter coats and lay by their winter stores. Birds would fail to start in time for the South.

The old Indians say that the story-teller who disobeys this law of Jo gah oh will suffer some misfortune. Winter is the time to tell the stories, for then the work of animals, plants, and men is done,—and the Little People are fast asleep.

No, it is not safe to tell stories in summer. No one knows when a bird, or a bee, or a butterfly may be listening, and may tell the chief of the Little People. Should the chief of the Little People be offended, he might cause something dreadful to happen to the story-teller.

Last summer, the writer of these stories came very near being changed into an animal,—or something worse,—just for telling stories. So an old Indian said. She does not know now how she escaped. She thinks it must have been because she was a White Indian. This is how it happened.

It was at the time of the Harvest Moon. Yeh sen noh wehs spoke for one of the tribes at their council house, and she told some of these wonder stories.

All went well until the middle of the night. Then a very old Indian came to warn her of her danger. It seems that he had been at the council in the evening, and had heard the stories told, many of which he knew.

He told Yeh sen noh wehs he had expected to see her change into something else right then and there. He said he would not dare to tell a story. “No, no, me ‘fraid, evil come!” he said.

Then he wanted to know if Yeh sen noh wehs was a real Indian. He had been told that she was a White Indian, but when he heard her tell the stories, he said, he thought she was a real Indian.

When Yeh sen noh wehs told him that she had not a drop of Indian blood running in her veins, he looked very solemn. At last he spoke. He told the interpreter to tell her,—for he spoke but a few words of English,—that the Great Spirit made a snake, a snake; a fox, a fox; a muskrat, a muskrat; a coon, a coon; a bear, a bear; an Indian, an Indian; a White Indian, a White Indian. Each must be snake, fox, coon, bear, Indian or White Indian, as long as he lived. Each must be himself.

Then the old man asked what disease Yeh sen noh wehs had, that made her go around with a feather in her hair, acting like a real Indian, if she were a White Indian.

Yeh sen noh wehs had no answer. And she does not know to this day, what saved her from being changed into a rabbit, a katydid, or something worse, by the chief of the Little People. She knows, however, that she is very glad she is telling the stories to you, in the WINTER time.

Original text from the book:
Stories the Iroquois Tell Their Children