Tales of Medicine-Screech-Owl

Medicine-Screech-Owl was born at Long-Timber-on-the-Top-of-the-Hill. His father and mother were very old and lived near the center of the village. When his first birthday came he was given bow and arrows. His father and mother were asking each other what name they should give to their child, but before they could name him he spoke and said, “My name shall be Medicine-Screech-Owl.” His mother scolded him, because at this time there was also a man by the name of Medicine-Screech-Owl, and he was an ex-chief; but he said that he would have no other name, and so his parents named him Medicine-Screech-Owl. One night some one passed near the village and heard the child’s mother calling him by the name of the ex-chief. When the man came to the ex-chief’s place he told him that the child’s name was the same as his. When the ex-chief heard this he was angry, and told the people that he was going to kill the boy if he did not do as he should tell him to do. He sent for him, and when the boy came to his lodge he gave him watermelon seed and said: “Go back and plant this watermelon seed this evening. In the morning go and bring to me a great big watermelon to eat.” “All right,” said young Medicine-Screech-Owl. He took the seed, went back to his village, and told his father and mother what the ex-chief had told him to do. That evening the boy went out a short distance from his lodge, threw the seeds upon the ground, and there sprang up a large watermelon plant. He then went back to the lodge and told his father and mother what had happened. Early in the morning he went out to his watermelon vine, and he found many large watermelons on it. He took one of the melons to the ex-chief, who was surprised, and he thought that surely the boy was going to be a wonderful man. He was so jealous of him that he determined to destroy him, for he thought that if he did not young Medicine-Screech-Owl would get ahead of him in every way, and that the people would no longer pay him any attention. The boy went back to his village and told his father and mother all about what had happened. The ex-chief sent for the boy the second time and the boy again went to his lodge. The ex-chief had brought the boy a large bull to milk. He told him to take the bull to his lodge and to bring the milk over the next morning. The boy took the bull over to his village, but instead of milking it when morning came he took an axe and went out near the ex-chief’s lodge to chop some wood, and when the ex-chief saw him chopping wood he went to him and asked him if he had already milked the bull. The boy told the ex-chief that he had not milked the bull, but that he was in a hurry to cut some wood to take home. The ex-chief asked him why he was taking the wood home. “Well,” said the boy, “my father is going to have a child.” The ex-chief laughed at the boy and asked him if he ever had seen a man have a child. The boy said, “No; I never have.” Then he asked the ex-chief if he ever had seen a man milk a bull or a bull give milk. The ex-chief was very angry. The boy returned to his lodge and told his father and mother what had happened. The third time the ex-chief sent to have the boy come over to his lodge, informing him that he and some of his friends were going to have a fine time and a big dinner. In the meantime the ex-chief and the others were digging a big hole in the ground, in which they were going to throw the boy. They dug the hole about fifty feet deep and about four feet in diameter and covered it with a buffalo robe. When the boy came the ex-chief told him that he had already fixed a place for him to sit. Young Medicine-Screech-Owl never left his bow and arrows, but always had them with him everywhere he went. When he entered the ex-chief’s lodge they told him to be seated. He laid down his arrows and bow and went and sat down on the hide, and down he went into the hole. The ex-chief was very glad, for he thought surely he had killed the boy. He commenced filling the hole with heavy stones and dirt until he supposed that the boy was dead.

One evening the same person, who had passed the lodge and heard the boy’s mother calling him by the ex-chief’s name, passed again, and again heard her calling the same name, and he heard young MedicineScreech-Owl answering her. The man went to the ex-chief’s lodge and told him that the boy was still living, because while he was passing by his lodge he had heard his mother calling him and had heard him answering. When the ex-chief heard this he became very angry, and said that he was going to try once more, and if he failed to kill the boy this time he would leave him alone. He sent for the boy the fourth time. He came, and found that they had built up a big fire. The ex-chief told the boy to go right into the middle of the fire and sit down, for he wanted to see if he had any powers at all; that if he had any powers he would not burn up. The boy went into the midst of the fire and sat down for a long time, until the fire burned out; then he arose unharmed. When he had come out of the fire he made another big fire and told the ex-chief that it was his turn to go into the fire, to show whether or not he had any power. The ex-chief went in and the fire burned him to death.

From that time on the boy would go from place to place. Finally he grew to be almost a man in size. Many times he would run away from his father and mother, and when he returned his mother would scold him. Still he continued to go off wherever he pleased. The reason why his mother scolded him so much when he went anywhere was because she knew that there were many people who were envious of his power and would try to kill him; but the boy did not care for that. There was one place where three of his enemies were living, who were always talking about killing him. Medicine-Screech-Owl heard these men talking about him, and so one day he determined to visit them. He quietly stole away from his father and mother, for he dared not say anything to them about going, for fear they would not let him go. When he came to the place he found the three men at home, and when they saw him coming they all came out from their lodge and were very glad to see him, for they had been wishing for a long time that he would come. They asked him where he was going. He replied that he had come over for a visit to his friends. They asked him to go into the lodge. Young Medicine-Screech-Owl knew that he was to go in first and that all the others would come in and attempt to kill him. The door they had to enter was very small, although big enough for one man at a time to enter. When Medicine-Screech-Owl had entered he stood by the door and waited for the others to come in.

His only chance was to kill them. He stood by the door waiting and ready to strike the first to enter. As the first man entered, he struck him on the head and killed him, then pulled him in just as quickly as he could, to make it appear that the man had entered without anything happening. Thus he killed the second and the third man. Then he returned home and told his mother and father all that had happened.

Another time there was a man called Snow-and-Cold, living with his family far away in the north. When anybody went over there on a visit and happened to stay over night, he would be frozen before morning. Medicine-Screech-Owl heard all about this man and made up his mind to go and visit him and his family. One day he started out. It took him a long time to reach the place, for he had to go across a large lake. When he came to the water he stood on the edge of the bank. He wore on his head an eagle feather, and he took the eagle feather off from his head and placed it on the water and placed himself on the eagle feather. The feather began to sail across the water. On the other side of the water were many geese, and when any one came across the water the geese would make so much noise that the people at the home of Snow-and-Cold would know at once that somebody was coming. When young Medicine-Screech-Owl went across to visit old man Snow-and-Cold the geese did not see him when he landed on the other side. He stepped off from his eagle feather and placed it on his head again and walked straight to the place where Snow-and-Cold lived. All this time nobody had seen him. Medicine-Screech-Owl went into the lodge where Snow-and-Cold was and found him lying down, asleep. Medicine-Screech-Owl spoke to him and asked him how he was getting along. When Snow-and-Cold awoke he looked around, but could see no one. Again Medicine-Screech-Owl spoke to him, and this time Snow-and-Cold arose from his bed and began to look around. He could find no one in the room. When he started to lie down again Medicine-Screech-Owl spoke to him and showed himself. Snow-and-Cold was surprised to see Medicine-Screech-Owl there and asked him what he wanted. Medicine-Screech-Owl replied that he had come over on a visit, because he had heard so much of the place. When evening came Snow-and-Cold told the boy to sleep right there, in a bed which had nothing but snow on it. After they had gone to bed Snow-and-Cold did not go to sleep, but kept watching the boy, for he thought he would surely freeze to death in a little while; but every time Snow-and-Cold looked over to see him he would see a light right next to his head. He wondered what it could be. Medicine-Screech-Owl had his feather sticking straight up on his pillow during the night. Snow-and-Cold arose, reached for the cane which he had placed at the foot of his bed next to a place that seemed like a fireplace. Medicine-Screech-Owl watched him all this time, but he did not know that he was being watched. Snow-and-Cold took the cane and punched the snow where it seemed like a fireplace, and the fire sprang out from the snow. When he had warmed himself he covered the fire and went back to his bed. Soon he saw Medicine-Screech-Owl get out of his bed, go for the cane, and punch the place, and out came the fire. When Medicine-Screech-Owl was through warming himself he walked back to his bed. Snow-and-Cold did not know what to think of Medicine-Screech-Owl. The next morning Snow-and-Cold called to Medicine-Screech-Owl to get up from his bed. He thought he had been frozen to death, but the boy jumped up and said that he had had a fine sleep. After he was through talking to Snow-and-Cold he said he would have to go back home; that his mother would not like it if he should stay out another day. He started back, and when he reached home he told his mother all about it.

Medicine-Screech-Owl Tale 2

In a village there lived an old man, his wife, and one child, a beautiful girl. The girl had never been known to have a male acquaintance, and was always modest and well-beloved. Nevertheless, in some way she became pregnant. Her father and mother noticed this and called her attention to the fact, and asked her how it had happened and who was the father of the child. In those days it was the custom to find out all about such matters. The girl herself did not know how she had come to be in that condition and could not answer their questions. Her people were angry at her and much ashamed, but could not get her to answer any of their questions. She went as usual with the girls of the village to dig potatoes, but she could never find any and always returned without any. One time, after her mother had scolded her for never bringing home any potatoes, she was wandering slowly about trying to find some when she heard a voice cry, “Mother.” She looked about, but could see no one. Again she heard the cry, and then she knew that it was the child in her womb that was crying. The voice told her to go to a certain place and dig. She obeyed and found many large potatoes. When the other girls saw them they wondered, for they knew that she was never successful in finding them.

The child was born and, at his own request, was called Medicine-Screech-Owl. The mother and child lived apart from the others and were very poor and often hungry, for they had no one to hunt food for them, and all they had to eat was what people gave to them. The child grew rapidly and was soon large enough to play with the other little boys. There was a lake near the village where the men fished, and the children were accustomed to go to the lake and watch them. One time Medicine-Screech-Owl asked his mother if he could not fish too. She only laughed at him and told him that he was too little; but he begged so hard that she finally said he might go and try. He went, taking his little bow and arrows, and soon returned with a big fish. His mother was greatly surprised and gave her consent for him to go the next day. Again he came home with a big fish, and again and again, until his fame as a fisherman spread throughout the village.

There were many who did not like the boy because they did not know who his father was, and when they heard about his success they began to fear him and decided to kill him. There was among the people a powerful Medicine-Man, and they asked him to use his powers against the boy and kill him.

One day, while the boy was at the lake fishing, he saw the reflection of a big, black cloud in the water. He knew that the Medicine-Man was sending Thunder to try to kill him, but he did not fear. He walked into the water until it was up to his knees. Then came a peal of thunder and a shaft of lightning. He raised his bow over his head and the lightning rolled from it into the water. Again and again the lightning shafts struck at him, but every time he caught them on his bow and hurled them into the water. At last the Medicine-Man realized that the boy had more power over Thunder than he had, and so he gave up. That evening the boy returned home with a big fish and told his mother what had happened.

Nothing more happened for a long time, but one day while the boy was lying in his lodge resting it occurred to him that something was going to happen to him. He arose from his bed, took his bow and arrows, went back to his bed, lay down and began to sing. Soon he heard a great noise, and he knew that the Medicine-Man was sending Cannibal monster to destroy him. He heard the monster’s roar, that sounded like thunder, but he lay still and sang as though he had nothing to fear. As the monster came nearer he could feel its hot breath, but he did not move until it leaped upon his lodge and fell through with an awful crash. Then he arose and killed it.

After that Medicine-Screech-Owl started out to travel, and he went from place to place, killing monsters and ferocious animals and healing the sick. Where he was, death could not come, and so powerful was his touch that people were healed if he placed his hand on the diseased place. Finally, after he had been with the people for a long time, he called them together and told them that he was going to leave them. He disappeared and has not been seen since.

Caddo, Legends,

Dorsey, George A. Traditions of the Caddo. Washington: Carnegie Institution. 1905.

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