The Wendigos and the Bone-Dwarf

Traditional Saginaw tale adapted from a story found in Indian Tales and Legends, Vol. II (1839) by Henry Rowe Schoolcraft and The Indian Fairy Book (1869) by Cornelius Mathews.


In a lonely forest there once lived a husband, wife, and son. The father went out every day, according to the custom of his people, to hunt for food to supply his family.

One day while he was absent, his wife, on stepping out of the lodge, looked toward the nearby lake and saw a very large man walking on the water coming fast toward the lodge. He was already so near that she could not, if she had wished to, escape by running away.

“What shall I say to the monster?” she thought to herself.

As he advanced rapidly, she ran in, and taking the hand of her son, a boy three or four years old, she led him out. Speaking very loudly, she said, “See, my son, your grandfather,” and then added, in a tone of appeal and humility, “he will have pity on us.”

The giant approached and bellowed, “Ha ha! Yes, my son,” and added, addressing the woman, “Have you anything to eat?”

By good luck the lodge was well supplied with meats of various kinds; the woman tried to please him by handing him these, which were tasty and carefully prepared. But he pushed them away in disgust, saying, “I smell fire,” and, not waiting to be invited, he seized upon the carcass of a deer which lay by the door and ate it almost without stopping to take breath.

When the hunter came home he was surprised to see the monster, he was so very frightful. He had again brought a deer, which he had no sooner put down than the cannibal seized it, tore it in pieces, and devoured it as though he had been fasting for a week. The e_irving_couse-hunting_deer-2hunter looked on in fear and astonishment, and in a whisper he told his wife that he was afraid for their lives, as this monster was a Wendigo. He did not even dare to speak to him, nor did the cannibal say a word, but as soon as he had finished his meal, he stretched himself down and fell asleep.

Early next morning he told the hunter that he should also go out hunting, and they went together. Toward evening they returned, the man bringing a deer, but the Wendigo brought home the bodies of two people he had killed. He very composedly sat down and commenced tearing the limbs apart, breaking the bones with his teeth, and eating them as easily as if they had been soft pieces of flesh. Besides, his hunger did not seem to be satisfied, for he snatched up the deer the hunter had brought to finish his supper while the hunter and his family had to live on their dried meat.

In this manner the Wendigo and the hunter’s family lived for some time,

it is remarkable that the monster never made an attempt on their lives, although the ground outside the lodge was white with the human bones he had cast out, and every evening after devouring his own quarry, the Wendigo would be stained with blood and looking very wild, yet still famished. When there was no deer to be had with which to finish his meal, he said nothing. In truth he was always still and gloomy, and he seldom spoke to any of them; when he did, his talk was chiefly addressed to the boy.

One evening, after he had been living with them like so for many weeks, he informed the hunter that the time had come for him to leave, but that before doing so, he would give him a charm that would bring good luck to his lodge. He presented to the hunter two arrows, and thanking the hunter and his wife for their kindness, the Wendigo departed, saying, as he left them, that he had all the world to travel over.

The hunter and his wife were happy when he was gone, for they had constantly feared being devoured by him. The hunter tried the arrows, and they never failed to bring down whatever they were aimed at.

arrow3They had lived on, prosperous and contented, for a year when a great evil befell them. One day while the hunter was absent, his wife saw something like a black cloud approaching outside of the lodge.

She looked until it came near enough that she could see that it was another Wendigo. She sensed no danger, thinking he would treat them as the first one had done. In this she was wholly mistaken. Unluckily they had but a small portion of moose meat in the lodge.

Finding after he had glared around that there was no food at hand, he grew very vexed, and, being sorely disappointed, he took the lodge and threw it to the winds. He hardly seemed to notice the woman, for she was but a morsel for him. But then he seized her by the waist. Her cries and entreaties, with those of her son, had no effect—the monster tore out her entrails, and taking her body at one mouthful, started off. To the little son, who ran back and forth wailing, he paid no notice, probably thinking it was not worth his while.

When the hunter returned from the forest at nightfall, he was amazed. His lodge was gone, and he saw his son sitting near the spot where it had stood, weeping. The son pointed in the direction the Wendigo had run, and as the father hurried along he found the remains of his wife strewn upon the ground.

The hunter blackened his face in mourning, and vowed in his heart that he would have revenge. He built another lodge, and gathering together the bones of his wife, he placed them in the hollow part of a dry tree.

He left his boy to take care of the lodge while he was absent, hunting and roaming from place to place, striving to forget his misfortune, and searching for the wicked Wendigo. He made a bow and arrows for his son, and did everything in his power to please him.

He had been gone only a little while one morning when his son shot his arrows out through the top of the lodge, and running out to look for them, he could find them nowhere. The boy had been trying his luck, and he was puzzled that he had shot his arrows entirely out of sight.

His father made him more arrows, and when he was again left alone, he shot one of them out. But although he looked as hard as he could toward the spot where it fell, and ran there at once, he could not find it.

He shot another, which was lost in the same way, and returning to the lodge to refill his quiver, he happened to spot one of the lucky arrows that the first Wendigo had given to his father hanging on the side of the lodge. He reached up, and having secured it, he shot it out of the opening, and immediately running out to find where it fell, he was surprised to see a beautiful boy just in the act of picking it up and hurrying away with it to a large tree, where he disappeared.

hollow-tree-2The hunter’s son followed, and having come to the tree, he saw the face of the boy looking out through an opening in the hollow part.

Nha-ha (oh dear)!” he said. “My friend, come out and play with me,” and he urged the boy until he consented. They played and shot their arrows by turns.

Suddenly the young boy said, “Your father is coming. We must stop. Promise me that you will not tell him.”

The hunter’s son promised, and the other disappeared into the tree.

When the hunter returned from the chase, his son sat quietly by the fire. In the course of the evening he asked his father to make him a new bow, and when he was questioned as to why the boy would need two bows, he answered that one might break or get lost.

The father, pleased at his son’s diligence in the practice of the bow, made him the two weapons, and the next day, as soon as his father had gone away, the boy ran to the hollow tree and invited his little friend to come out and play, at the same time presenting the new bow to him. They went and played in the lodge together, and in their sport they raised the ashes all over it.

Suddenly again the youngest said, “Your father is coming; I must leave.”
He again exacted a promise of secrecy and went back to his tree. The boy took his seat near the fire.

When the hunter came in he was surprised to see the ashes scattered about. “Why, my son,” he said, “you must have played very hard today to raise such a dust all alone.”
“Yes,” the boy answered. “I was very lonesome, and I ran around and around—that is the cause of it.”

The next day the hunter prepared for the chase as usual. The boy said, “Father, try and hunt all day, and see what you can kill.”

He had no sooner set out than the boy called his friend, and they played and chased each other around the lodge. They had great delight in each other’s company, and made merry by the hour. As the hunter was returning home again and came to a low hill that caught the winds as they passed, he heard his son laughing and making noise. But the sounds as they reached him on the hilltop seemed as if they were of two children playing.

At the same time, the younger boy stopped, and after saying, “Your father is coming,” he stole away under cover of the high grass to his hollow tree, which was not far off.
The hunter, on entering, found his son sitting by the fire, very quiet and unconcerned, although he saw that all the furnishings of the lodge were lying thrown around in all directions.

“Why, my son,” he said, “You must play very hard every day. And what is it that you do all alone to throw the lodge into such confusion?”

The boy again had his excuse. “Father,” he answered, “I play this way: I chase and drag my coat around the lodge, and that is the reason you see the ashes spread about.”

The hunter was not satisfied until his son had shown him how he played with the coat, which he did so nimbly as to make his father laugh, and eventually driving him out of the lodge with the great clouds of ashes that he raised.

arrow4The next morning the boy renewed his request that his father should be absent all day, and see if he could not kill two deer. The hunter thought this a strange desire on the part of his son, but as he had always humored the boy, he went into the forest as usual, bent on accomplishing his wish if he could.

As soon as he was out of sight, his son ran to his young companion at the tree, and they continued their sports.

The father, on nearing his home in the evening as he reached the rising ground, again heard the sounds of play and laughter. And as the wind brought them straight to his ear, he was now certain that there were two voices.

The boy from the tree had barely enough time to escape. The hunter entered and found his son sitting as usual near the fire. When he looked around he saw that the lodge was in greater confusion than before. “My son,” he said, “You must be very foolish when you are alone to play like this. But, tell me, my son: I heard two voices, I am sure,” and he looked closely at the prints of the footsteps in the ashes. “True,” he continued, “here is the print of a foot which is smaller than my son’s,” and he was now satisfied that his suspicions were well founded, and that some very young person had been the companion of his son.
The boy could no longer refuse to tell his father what had happened.

“Father,” he said, “I found a boy in the hollow of that tree near the lodge, where you placed my mother’s bones.”

Strange thoughts came over the mind of the hunter. Did his wife live again in this mysterious child? He thought that this little boy might have been created from the remains of his deceased wife. But fearful of disturbing the dead, he did not dare to visit the place where he had placed her remains. Instead, he told his son to entice the boy to a dead tree by the edge of a wood, where they could hunt many flying squirrels by setting it on fire. The father said that he would conceal himself nearby and capture the boy.

The next day the hunter accordingly went into the woods, and his son, calling the boy from the tree, urged him to go with him to hunt the squirrels. The boy objected that his father was near, but he was finally convinced to go. After they had lit the tree on fire, and while they were busy taking the squirrels, the hunter suddenly made his appearance and clasped the strange boy in his arms. He cried out, “Kago, kago! (Don’t, don’t!) You will tear my clothes!” for he was clad in a fine apparel, which shone as if it had been made of a beautiful transparent skin. The father reassured him as best he could.

By constant kindness and gentle words, the boy was reconciled to stay with them, chiefly by the presence of his young friend, the hunter’s son, to whom he was fondly attached. The children were never parted from each other and when the hunter looked upon the strange boy, he seemed to see his lost wife’s spirit living within him. The father now knew that it was the Great Spirit who had thus miraculously raised him a son from the remains of his wife, and he felt persuaded that the boy would, in time, become a great man and aid him in his revenge on the Wendigo.

The hunter grew at ease in his spirit, and gave all of the time he could spare from the hunt to the company of the two children. But what affected him the most was this: both of his sons, although they were well-formed and beautiful, grew no larger, but remained children. Every day they resembled each other more and more, and they never ceased to play and amuse themselves in the innocent ways of childhood.

One day the hunter had gone abroad with his bow and arrows, leaving, at the request of the strange boy, one of the two shafts which the friendly Wendigo had given to him behind in the lodge.

When he returned, to his surprise and joy, he found stretched dead by his lodge door the giant who had slain his wife. He had been struck down by the magic shaft in the hands of the little stranger from the tree. And ever after, the boy, or the Bone-Dwarf as he was called, was the guardian and good protector of the lodge, and no evil spirit, giant, or Wendigo dared approach it again to upset their peace.

One day, after musing for a long time, the father told his sons that his time was come, and that he should have to follow his forefathers to the land of the west. Their father departed amid thunder and lightning. He fixed his residence as directed by the Great Manitou in the sky toward the north, and he retains his name to the present day, which is The Thunder commencing in the north, and going south.


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