By Juliette Augusta Magill Kinzie

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Chapter XXIX: Story of the Red Fox

The Indians, of whatever tribe, are exceedingly fond of narrating or listening to tales and stories, whether historical or fictitious. They have their professed storytellers, like the Oriental nations, and these go about, from village to village, collecting an admiring and attentive audience, however oft-told and familiar the matter they recite.

It is in this way that their traditions are preserved and handed down unimpaired from generation to generation. Their knowledge of the geography of their country is wonderfully exact. I have seen an Indian sit in his lodge, and draw a map, in the ashes, of the Northwestern States, not of their statistical but their geographical features, lakes, rivers, and mountains, with the greatest accuracy, giving their relative distances, by days’ journeys, without hesitation, and even extending his drawings and explanations as far as Kentucky and Tennessee.

Of biography they preserve not only the leading events in the life of the person, but his features, appearance, and bearing, his manners, and whatever little trait or peculiarity characterized him.

The women are more fond of fiction, and some of their stories have a strange mingling of humor and pathos. I give the two which follow as specimens. The Indian names contained in them are in the Ottawa or “Courte-Oreilles" language, but the same tales are current in all the different tongues and dialects.



This is an animal to which many peculiarities are attributed. He is said to resemble the jackal in his habit of molesting the graves of the dead, and the Indians have a superstitious dread of hearing his bark at night, believing that it forebodes calamity and death. They say, too, that he was originally of one uniform reddish-brown color, but that his legs became black in the manner related in the story.

There was a chief of a certain village who had a beautiful daughter. He resolved upon one occasion to make a feast and invite all the animals. When the invitation was brought to the red fox, he inquired, “What are you going to have for supper?”

Mee-dau-mee-nau-bo,” was the reply. (This is a porridge made of parched corn, slightly cracked.)

The fox turned up his little sharp nose. “No, I thank you,” said he; “I can get plenty of that at home.”

The messenger returned to the chief, and reported the contemptuous refusal of the fox.

“Go back to him,” said the chief, “and tell him we are going to have a nice fresh body,[48] and we will have it cooked in the most delicate manner possible.”

Pleased with the prospect of such a treat, the fox gave a very hearty assent to the second invitation.

The hour arrived, and he set off for the lodge of the chief to attend the feast. The company were all prepared for him, for they made common cause with their friend who had been insulted. As the fox entered, the guest next the door, with great courtesy, rose from his place, and begged the new-comer to be seated. Immediately the person next him also rose, and insisted that the fox should occupy his place, as it was still nearer the fire–the post of honor. Then the third, with many expressions of civility, pressed him to exchange with him; and thus, with many ceremonious flourishes, he was passed along the circle, always approaching the fire, where a huge cauldron stood, in which the good cheer was still cooking. The fox was by no means unwilling to occupy the highest place in the assembly, and, besides, he was anxious to take a peep into the kettle, for he had his suspicions that he might be disappointed of the delicacies he had been expecting.

So, by degrees, he was ushered nearer and nearer the great blazing fire, until by a dexterous push and shove he was hoisted into the seething kettle.

His feet were dreadfully scalded, but he leaped out, and ran home to his lodge, howling and crying with pain. His grandmother, with whom, according to the custom of animals, he lived, demanded of him an account of the affair. When he had faithfully related all the circumstances (for, unlike the civilized animals, he did not think of telling his grandmother a story), she reproved him very strongly.

“You have committed two great faults,” said she. “In the first place, you were very rude to the chief who was so kind as to invite you, and by returning insult for civility you made yourself enemies who were determined to punish you. In the next place, it was very unbecoming in you to be so forward to take the place of honor. Had you been contented modestly to keep your seat near the door, you would have escaped the misfortune that has befallen you.”

All this was not very consolatory to the poor fox, who continued to whine and cry most piteously, while his grandmother, having finished her lecture, proceeded to bind up his wounds. Great virtue is supposed to be added to all medical prescriptions and applications by a little dancing; so, the dressing having been applied, the grandmother fell to dancing with all her might, round and round in the lodge.

When she was nearly exhausted, the fox said, “Grandmother, take off the bandages and see if my legs are healed.”

She did as he requested, but no–the burns were still fresh. She danced and danced again. Now and then, as he grew impatient, she would remove the coverings to observe the effect of the remedies. At length, towards morning, she looked, and, to be sure, the burns were quite healed. “But, oh!” cried she, “your legs are as black as a coal! They were so badly burned that they will never return to their color!”

The poor fox, who, like many another brave, was vain of his legs, fell into a transport of lamentation.

“Oh! my legs! My pretty red legs! What shall I do? The young girls will all despise me. I shall never dare to show myself among them again!”

He cried and sobbed until his grandmother, fatigued with her exercise, fell asleep. By this time he had decided upon his plan of revenge.

He rose and stole softly out of his lodge, and, pursuing his way rapidly towards the village of the chief, he turned his face in the direction of the principal lodge and barked. When the inhabitants heard this sound in the stillness of the night, their hearts trembled. They knew that it foreboded sorrow and trouble to some one of their number.

A very short time elapsed before the beautiful daughter of the chief fell sick, and she grew rapidly worse and worse, spite of medicines, charms, and dances. At length she died. The fox had not intended to bring misfortune on the village in this shape, for he loved the beautiful daughter of the chief, so he kept in his lodge and mourned and fretted for her death.

Preparations were made for a magnificent funeral, but the friends of the deceased were in great perplexity. “If we bury her in the earth,” said they, “the fox will come and disturb her remains. He has barked her to death, and he will be glad to come and finish his work of revenge.”

They took counsel together, and determined to hang her body high in a tree as a place of sepulture. They thought the fox would go groping about in the earth, and not lift up his eyes to the branches above his head.

But the grandmother had been at the funeral, and she returned and told the fox all that had been done.

“Now, my son,” said she, “listen to me. Do not meddle with the remains of the chief’s daughter. You have done mischief enough already. Leave her in peace.”

As soon as the grandmother was asleep at night, the fox rambled forth. He soon found the place he sought, and came and sat under the tree where the young girl had been placed. He gazed and gazed at her all the livelong night, and she appeared as beautiful as when in life. But when the day dawned, and the light enabled him to see more clearly, then he observed that decay was doing its work–that instead of a beautiful she presented only a loathsome appearance.

He went home sad and afflicted, and passed all the day mourning in his lodge.

“Have you disturbed the remains of the chief’s beautiful daughter?” was his parent’s anxious question.

“No, grandmother,"–and he uttered not another word.

Thus it went on for many days and nights. The fox always took care to quit his watch at the early dawn of day, for he knew that her friends would suspect him, and come betimes to see if all was right.

At length he perceived that, gradually, the young girl looked less and less hideous in the morning light, and that she by degrees resumed the appearance she had presented in life, so that in process of time her beauty and look of health quite returned to her.

One day he said, “Grandmother, give me my pipe, that I may take a smoke.”

“Ah!” cried she, “you begin to be comforted. You have never smoked since the death of the chief’s beautiful daughter. Have you heard some good news?”

“Never you mind,” said he; “bring the pipe.”

He sat down and smoked, and smoked. After a time he said, “Grandmother, sweep your lodge and put it all in order, for this day you will receive a visit from your daughter-in-law.”

The grandmother did as she was desired. She swept her lodge, and arranged it with all the taste she possessed, and then both sat down to await the visit.

“When you hear a sound at the door,” said the fox, “you must give the salutation, and say, Come in.”

When they had been thus seated for a time, the grandmother heard a faint, rustling sound. She looked towards the door. To her surprise, the mat which usually hung as a curtain was rolled up, and the door was open.

“Peen-tee-geen n’dau-nis!"[49] cried she.

Something like a faint, faint shadow appeared to glide in. It took gradually a more distinct outline. As she looked and looked, she began to discern the form and features of the chief’s beautiful daughter, but it was long before she appeared like a reality, and took her place in the lodge like a thing of flesh and blood.

They kept the matter hid very close, for they would not for the world that the father or friends of the bride should know what had happened. Soon, however, it began to be rumored about that the chief’s beautiful daughter had returned to life, and was living in the Red Fox’s lodge. How it ever became known was a mystery, for, of course, the grandmother never spoke of it.

Be that as it may, the news created great excitement in the village. “This must never be,” said they all. “He barked her to death once, and who knows what he may do next time?”

The father took at once a decided part. “The Red Fox is not worthy of my daughter,” he said. “I had promised her to the Hart, the finest and most elegant among the animals. Now that she has returned to life, I shall keep my word.”

So the friends all went in a body to the lodge of the Red Fox. The bridegroom, the bride, and the grandmother made all the resistance possible, but they were overpowered by numbers, and, the Hart having remained conveniently waiting on the outside where there was no danger, the beautiful daughter of the chief was placed upon his back, and he coursed away through the forest to carry her to his own home. When he arrived at the door of his lodge, however, he turned his head, but no bride was in the place where he expected to see her. He had thought his burden very light from the beginning, but that he supposed was natural to spirits returned from the dead. He never imagined she had at the outset glided from her seat, and in the midst of the tumult slipped back, unobserved, to her chosen husband.

One or two attempts were made by the friends, after this, to repossess themselves of the young creature, but all without success. Then they said, “Let her remain where she is. It is true the Red Fox occasioned her death, but by his watchfulness and care he caressed her into life again; therefore she rightfully belongs to him.” So the Red Fox and his beautiful bride lived long together in great peace and happiness.


Cover  •  Preface  •  Chapter I. Departure From Detroit  •  Chapter II: Michilimackinac  •  Chapter III: Green Bay  •  Chapter IV: Voyage Up Fox River  •  Chapter V: Winnebago Lake–Miss Four-Legs  •  Chapter VI: Breakfast At Betty More’s  •  Chapter VII: Butte Des Morts–Lake Puckaway  •  Chapter VIII: Fort Winnebago  •  Chapter IX: Housekeeping  •  Chapter X: Indian Payment–Mrs. Washington  •  Chapter XI: Louisa–Day-Kau-Ray On Education  •  Chapter XII: Preparations For a Journey  •  Chapter XIII: Departure From Fort Winnebago  •  Chapter XIV: William S. Hamilton–Kellogg’s Grove  •  Chapter XV: Rock River–Hours of Trouble  •  Chapter XVI: Relief  •  Chapter XVII: Chicago in 1831  •  Chapter XVIII: Massacre At Chicago  •  Chapter XIX: Narrative of the Massacre, Continued  •  Chapter XX: Captivity of J. Kinzie, Sen.–An Amusing Mistake  •  Chapter XXI: A Sermon  •  Chapter XXII: The Captives  •  Chapter XXIII: Second-Sight–Hickory Creek  •  Chapter XXIV: Return to Fort Winnebago  •  Chapter XXV: Return Journey, Continued  •  Chapter XXVI: Four-Legs, the Dandy  •  Chapter XXVII: The Cut-Nose  •  Chapter XXVIII: Indian Customs and Dances  •  Chapter XXIX: Story of the Red Fox  •  Chapter XXX: Story of Shee-Shee-Banze  •  Chapter XXXI: A Visit to Green Bay–Ma-Zhee-Gaw-Gaw Swamp  •  Chapter XXXII: Commencement of the Sauk War  •  Chapter XXXIII: Fleeing From the Indians  •  Chapter XXXIV: Fort Howard–Our Return Home  •  Chapter XXXV: Surrender of Winnebago Prisoners  •  Chapter XXXVI: Escape of the Prisoners  •  Chapter XXXVII: Agathe–Tomah  •  Chapter XXXVIII: Conclusion  •  Appendix