Heroes: The Jealous Uncle

This story is part of the Native American Hero Tales unit. Story source: Tales of the North American Indians by Stith Thompson (1929).

The Jealous Uncle

In a village lived a man, known to his neighbors as "Unnatural Uncle." When his nephews became a few years old, he would kill them. Two had already suffered death at his hands.

After the second had disappeared, his wife went to the mother of the boys and said: "Should another boy be born to you, let us conceal the fact from my husband and make him believe the child a girl. In that case he will not harm him, and we may succeed in bringing him up."

Not long after the above conversation another nephew was born. Unnatural Uncle, hearing that a child was born, sent his wife to ascertain the sex of the child. She, as had been agreed upon, reported the child a girl. "Let her live," he said.

The two women tended and dressed the boy as if he were a girl. When he grew older, they told him to play with the girls and impressed upon him that he should at all times imitate the ways, attitudes, and postures of the girls, especially when attending to the calls of nature. Unnatural Uncle watched the boy as he was growing up, and often wondered at his boyish looks.

One day the boy, not knowing that his uncle was about and observing him, raised up his parka and so exposed his body. "Ah," said Unnatural Uncle to his wife, on reaching home, "this is the way you have fooled me. But I know everything now. Go and tell my nephew I wish to see him."

With tears in her eyes the poor woman delivered the message to the nephew, and told him of the disappearance of his brothers and of his probable fate. The father and mother of the boy wept bitterly, for they were certain he would never return. The boy himself, although frightened, assured his parents to the contrary, and begged them not to worry, for he would come back safe and sound.

"Did my brothers have any playthings?" he asked before going.

He was shown to a box where their things were kept. In it he found a piece of a knife, some eagle-down, and a sour cranberry. These he hid about his person and went to meet his uncle.

The latter greeted him, and said: "Nephew, let us go and fetch some wood."

When they came to a large forest, the boy remarked: "Here is good wood; let us take some of it, and go back."

"Oh, no! There is better wood farther on," said the uncle.

From the forest they stepped into a bare plain. "Let us go back. There is no wood here," called the boy. But the uncle motioned to him to come on, telling him that they would soon find better wood.

A little later they came to a big log. "Here is what I want," exclaimed the uncle, and began splitting it. "Here, nephew, jump in, and get that wedge out," called the uncle to the boy, as one of the wedges fell in.

When the boy did so, the man knocked out the other wedges; the log closed in on the boy and held him fast. "Stay there!" said Unnatural Uncle, and walked off.

For some time the boy remained in this helpless condition, planning a means of escape. At last he thought of his sour cranberry and, taking it in his hand, he rubbed with it the interior of the log from edge to edge. The sourness of the berry caused the log to open its mouth, thus freeing him.

On his way back to the village, he gathered a bundle of wood, which he left at his uncle's door, announcing the fact to him: "Here, uncle, I have brought you the wood."

The latter was both surprised and vexed at his failure, and determined more than ever to kill the boy. His wife, however, warned him: "You had better not harm the boy; you have killed his brothers, and if you hurt him, you will come to grief."

"I will kill him, too," he savagely replied.

(700 words)

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