How the Fawn Received His Spotted Shirt

Traditional Lakota Story

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Tawiyela was very nervous and upset. She looked this way and that for danger lurking in the shadows of the chokecherry trees and the willow shoots along the creek bed. Her baby, Tachinchala was just a few minutes old, and her heart was beating as loudly as a war drum in concern for him. Her husband, Tahcha, was watchful, too, observing all he could from the steep sidehill overlooking his family below.

"O Great Creator, I wish sincerely in my heart for a way to protect my newborn fawn," prayed the mother deer, as she washed her baby with her tongue. "You have given all the parent creatures in this land some special kind of protection for their babes when they are born. The buffalo's baby can run immediately and hide amongst his parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins in the safe inner circle of the herd. The same can be said for the great wapati, whose grandmothers sound the alarm and sweep even the very young to safety. The bighorn sheep have little ones who can scramble to the highest cliff almost as soon as they are born. And the pronghorn child is so fleet of foot that he can run with his mother from danger almost before she has finished washing his face.

"My husband and I fear for our own little child, who has no such skills. He and I can run and jump away from any threat, but our son is weak and wobbly-legged and has no strength to run away. O Great Creator of all creatures, please hear our plea and give us some way to save our child from those who would make a good meal of him."

At this, the Creator of all things stopped what he was doing and came down to earth to see what he could do. His heart had been moved by the mother deer's sincere prayers and he decided to honor her request.

His appearance came with a great wind which drove away all of the predators who had been lurking in the shadows. They were sent scurrying away so that they could not see, nor hear, nor know in any way what plan the Creator would devise to help the deer family protect their young.

Then he called Tawiyela and Tahcha to him and stood over tiny Tachinchala, who had just fallen into a saskatoon berry bush. "This child is indeed in need of help," said the Creator. "This is what we will do. Bring me a doeskin which has been worked as fine as goose down. Bring me your paint pots, and all of your bags of pigment powders, too."

The father deer sprang through the trees to retrieve all of the items requested by the Creator, while the mother deer stood guard near her child. While the father deer was gone, the Creator bent low over the tiny baby which lay sprawled at his feet. He took a deep breath in and let a deep breath out. The trees swayed in the breath of the Creator. Then he took a deeper breath in, so deep and so powerful that he sucked all of the scent from the baby deer's skin. Not an aspen leaf quivered in the Great Silence of the Creator, and not even a tiny breeze of his breath came back out.

Tahcha flashed through the canes of the willow, crashing his way through the dry twigs on the sides of the pine trees in his urgency to bring the Creator that which he required. The doeskin was tied around his neck and his paint pots and little bags of powdered pigment were tied to his tail, as his antlers had not sprouted out much and therefore could not do the job. He offered the items up with great respect to the Creator, singing as he did a little prayer of thanksgiving. "Pilamayaye, Wakan Tanka," he sang. "Pilamayaye, Wakan Tanka."

The Creator of all heaven and earth measured the baby with his great hand. Then he took a piece of flint from the earth beside him and cut the soft doeskin to fit. He motioned to Tawiyela to cut some thongs and asked her to lace up the sides, as he mixed the pigments carefully in the pots. He took a little black from the charcoal of many fires, some brown from the earth, some white from the father's pouch, mixing in some creamy yellow and just a touch of sacred red.

Then the Great Painter dabbed these paints upon the baby's shirt. When He was done, he bade the mother deer pull the shirt over the baby's head to cover his back and his sides. "Make sure your sons and daughters wear this shirt from now on," said the Creator, "and instruct them to lie quietly in place wherever you put them, never moving nor making a sound. As long as they are obedient to your instructions, they will be safe, for they are now invisible to all who prowl in the woods, and have no scent to give them away to your enemies."

And so it is that the fawn wears a spotted shirt until the time he is big enough and strong enough so the wolves can't eat him up.


Lakota Words:

Tawiyela ~ Female deer
Tachinchala ~ Fawn
Tahcha ~ Deer
Pilamayaye ~ Thank you
Wakan Tanka ~ The Great Spirit, the Creator

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