Great Plains: Rabbit and Deer

This story is part of the Great Plains unit. Story source: Myths and Legends of the Great Plains by Katharine Berry Judson (1913).

How the Deer Got His Horns

Long ago, in the beginning, Deer had no horns. His head was smooth like a doe’s. Now Deer was a very fast runner, but Rabbit was a famous jumper. So the animals used to talk about it and wonder which could go the farther in the same time. They talked about it a great deal. They decided to have a race between the two, and they made a pair of large antlers to be given to whoever could run the faster. Deer and Rabbit were to start together from one side of a thicket, go through it, and then turn and come back. The one who came out of the thicket first was to receive the horns.

On a certain day all the animals were there. They put the antlers down on the ground to mark the starting point. Everyone admired the horns. But Rabbit said, “I don’t know this part of the country; I want to look through the bushes where I am to run.”

So the Rabbit went into the thicket, and stayed a long time. He was gone so long the animals suspected he was playing a trick. They sent a messenger after  him. Right in the middle of the thicket he found Rabbit, gnawing down the bushes and pulling them away to make a clear road for himself.

The messenger came back quietly and told the animals. When Rabbit came back, they accused him of cheating. Rabbit said, “No,” but at last they all went into the thicket and found the road he had made.

Therefore the animals gave the antlers to Deer, saying that he was the better runner. That is why deer have antlers. And because Rabbit cut the bushes down, he is obliged to keep cutting them down, as he does to this day.


Why the Deer Has Blunt Teeth

One day after the race which they did not run, Rabbit stretched a large grapevine across the trail, gnawing it nearly in two in the middle. Then he went back on the trail, took a run, and jumped up at the vine. He did this again and again. At last Deer came along and asked him to tell what he was doing.

“Don’t you see?” said Rabbit. “I’m so strong I can bite through that grapevine at one jump.”

Deer said, “Do it.” Rabbit ran back, made a long leap, and bit through the vine where he had gnawed it before.

Deer said, “Well, I can do it if you can.”

So Rabbit stretched a larger grapevine across the trail but without gnawing it in the center. Deer ran back as he had seen Rabbit do, made a spring, and struck the grapevine right in the center. It only flew back and threw him over.

Deer tried again and again, but he was only bruised and hurt.

 “Let me see your teeth,” said Rabbit. They were long like a wolf’s teeth but not very sharp.

“No wonder you cannot do it,” said Rabbit. “Your teeth are too blunt to bite anything. Let me sharpen them for you so they are like mine. My teeth are so sharp I can cut through a stick just like a knife.”

And Rabbit showed Deer a black locust twig, of which rabbits gnaw the young shoots, which he had shaved off as well as a knife could do it.

So Deer let Rabbit sharpen his teeth. But Rabbit got a hard stone with rough edges and ground down the Deer’s teeth until they were blunt.

“Now try it,” said Rabbit to Deer. So Deer tried it again, but he could not bite at all.

“Now you’ve paid for your horns,” said Rabbit as he sprang through the underbrush. That is why the Deer’s teeth are blunt.

(600 words)

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