Hundreds of years ago there was a girl who was very good at quill
work, the quill-work girl, so good that she was the best among all the tribes everywhere.
Her designs were radiant with color, and she could decorate anything
clothing, pouches, quivers, even tipi’s.
One day this quill-work girl sat down in her parents’ lodge and began to make
a man’s outfit of white buckskin — war shirt, leggings, moccasins,
gauntlets, everything. It took her weeks to embroider them with
exquisite quill work and fringes of buffalo hair marvelous to look
at. Though her mother said nothing, she wondered. The girl had no
brothers, nor was a young man courting her, so why was she making
a man’s outfit?
As if life wasn’t strange enough, no sooner had she finished the
first outfit than she began working on a second, then on a third.
The quill-work girl worked all year until she had made and decorated seven complete
sets of men’s clothes, the last a very small one. The mother just
watched and kept wondering. At last after the quill-work girl had finished
the seventh outfit, she spoke to her mother. « Someplace, many
days’ walk from here, lives seven brothers, » she said. « Someday
all the world will admire them. Since I am an only child, I want
to take them for my brothers, and these clothes are for them. »
« It is well, my daughter, » her mother said. « I will
go with you. »
« This is too far for you to walk, » said the girl.
« Then I will go part of the way, » said her mother.
They loaded their strongest dogs with the seven bundles and set
off toward the north. « You seem to know the way, » said the mother.
« Yes, I don’t know why, but I do, » answered the daughter.
« And you seem to know all about these seven young men and
what makes them stand out from ordinary humans. »
« I know about them, » said the quill-work girl, « though I don’t
know how. »
Thus they walked, the girl seeming sure of herself. At last the
mother said, « This is as far as I can go. » They divided
the dogs, the girl keeping two for her journey, and took leave of
each other. Then the mother headed south back to her village and
her husband, while her daughter continued walking into the north.
At last the daughter came to a lone, painted, and very large tipi
which stood near a wide stream. The stream was shallow and she waded
across it, calling: « It is I, the young-girl-looking-for-brothers,
bringing gifts. »
At that a small boy about ten years old came out of the tipi. « I
am the youngest of seven brothers, » he told the girl. « The
others are out hunting buffalo, but they’ll come back after a while.
I have been expecting you. But you’ll be a surprise to my brothers,
because they don’t have my special gifts of `No Touch’. »
« What is the gift of no touch? » asked the girl.
« Sometime you’ll find out. Well, come into the tipi. »
The quill-work girl gave the boy the smallest outfit, which fitted him perfectly
and delighted him with its beautiful quill work.
« I shall take you all for my brothers, » the girl told him.
« And I am glad to have you for a sister, » answered the boy.
The girl took all the other bundles off her two dogs’ backs and
told them to go back to her parents, and at once the dogs began
Inside the tipi were seven beds of willow sticks and sage. The
girl unpacked her bundles and put a war shirt, a pair of leggings,
a pair of moccasins, and a pair of gauntlets upon each of the older
brothers’ beds. Then she gathered wood and built a fire. From her
packs she took dried meat, choke cherries, and kidney fat, and cooked
a meal for eight.
Toward evening just as the meal was ready, the six older brothers
appeared laden with buffalo meat. The little boy ran outside the
lodge and capered, kicking his heels and jumping up and down, showing
off his quilled buckskin outfit.
« Where did you get these fine clothes? » the brothers asked.
« We have a new sister, » said the child. « She’s waiting
inside, and she has clothes for you too. She does the most wonderful
quill work in the world. And she’s beautiful herself! »
The brothers greeted the girl joyfully. They were struck with wonder
at the white buckskin outfits she had brought as gifts for them.
They were as glad to have a sister to care for as she was to have
brothers to cook and make clothes for. Thus they lived happily.
One day after the older brothers had gone out to hunt, a light-colored
buffalo- calf appeared at the tipi and scratched and knocked with
his hoof against the entrance flap. The boy came out and asked it
what it wanted.
« I am sent by the buffalo nation, » said the calf. « We
have heard of your beautiful sister, and we want her for our own. »
« You can’t have her, » answered the boy. « Go away. »
« Oh well, then somebody bigger than I will come, » said
the calf and ran off jumping and kicking its heels.
The next day when the boy and the sister were alone again, a young
heifer arrived, lowing and snorting, rattling the entrance flap
of the tipi.
Once more the child came out to ask what she wanted.
« I am sent by the buffalo nation, » said the heifer. « We
want your beautiful sister for ourselves. »
« You can’t have her, » said the boy. « Go away! »
« Then somebody bigger than I will come, » said the heifer,
galloping off like the calf before her.
On the third day a large buffalo cow, grunting loudly, appeared
at the lodge. The boy came out and asked, « Big buffalo cow,
what do you want? »
« I am sent by the buffalo nation, » said the cow. « I
have come to take your beautiful sister. We want her. »
« You can’t have her, » said the boy. « Go away! »
« Somebody very big will come after me, » said the buffalo
cow, « and he won’t come alone. He’ll kill you if you don’t
give him your sister. » With these words the cow trotted off.
On the fourth day the older brothers stayed home to protect the
girl. The earth began to tremble a little, then to rock and heave.
At last appeared the most gigantic buffalo bull in the world, much
larger than any you see now. Behind him came the whole buffalo nation,
making the earth shudder. Pawing the ground, the huge bull snorted
and bellowed like thunder. The six older brothers, peering out through
the entrance hole, were very much afraid, but the little boy stepped
boldly outside. « Big, oversized buffalo bull, what do you want
from us? » he asked.
« I want your sister, » said the giant buffalo bull. « If
you won’t give her to me, I’ll kill you all. »
The boy called for his sister and older brothers to come out. Terrified,
they did so.
« I’ll take her now, » growled the huge bull.
« No, » said the boy, « she doesn’t want to be taken.
You can’t have her. Go away! »
« In that case I’ll kill you now, » roared the giant bull.
« I’m coming! »
« Quick, brother, use your special medicine! » the six
older brothers cried to the youngest.
« I am using it, » said he. « Now all of you, catch
hold of the branches of this tree. Hurry! » He pointed to a
tree growing by the tipi. The girl and the six brothers jumped up
into its branches. The boy took his bow and swiftly shot an arrow
into the tree’s trunk, then clasped the trunk tightly himself. At
once the tree started to grow, shooting up into the sky in no time
at all. It all happened much, much quicker than it can be told.
The brothers and the girl were lifted up in the tree branches,
out of reach of the buffalo. They watched the herd of angry animals
grunting and snorting, milling around the tree far below.
« I’ll chop the tree down with my horns! » roared the giant
buffalo. He charged the tree, which shook like a willow and swayed
back and forth. Trying not to fall off, the girl and the brothers
clutched the branches. The big bull had gouged a large piece of
wood from the trunk.
The little boy said, « I’d better use one more arrow. »
He shot another arrow high into the treetop, and again the tree
grew, shooting up another thousand feet or so, while the seven brothers
and the girl rose with it.
The giant buffalo bull made his second charge. Again his horns
stabbed into the tree and splintered wood far and wide. The gash
in the trunk had become larger.
The boy said, « I must shoot another arrow. » He did, hitting
the treetop again, and quick as a flash the tree rose another thousand feet.
A third time the bull charged, rocking the tree, making it sway
from side to side so that the brothers and the girl almost tumbled
out of their branches. They cried to the boy to save them. The child
shot a fourth arrow into the tree, which rose again so that the
seven young men and the girl disappeared into the clouds. The gash
in the tree trunk had become dangerously large.
« When that bull charges again, he will shatter this tree, »
said the girl. « Little brother, help us! »
Just as the bull charged for the fourth time, the child loosed
a single arrow he had left, and the tree rose above the clouds.
« Quick, step out right on the clouds. Hurry! » cried the
little boy. « Don’t be afraid! »
The bull’s head hit the tree trunk with a fearful impact. His horns
cut the trunk in two, but just as the tree slowly began to topple,
the seven brothers and the girl stepped off it’s branches and into the sky.
There the eight of them stood. « Little brother, what will
become of us now? We can never return to earth; we’re up too high.
What shall we do? »
« Don’t grieve, » said the little boy, « I’ll turn
us into stars. »
At once the seven brothers and the girl were bathed in radiant
light. They formed themselves into what the white men call the Big
Dipper. You can see them there now. The brightest star is the beautiful
girl, who is filling the sky with glimmering quill work, and the
star twinkling at the very end of the Dipper’s handle is the little
boy. Can you see him?