Little Firefly – American Indian tale

Firefly Lake

Little Firefly –

To tell the story of Little Firefly, you must know that once upon a time, on the shores of a great lake, lived a hunter, a widower with three daughters. Every day when he went into the forest, the hunter would leave his daughters with instructions to clean the wigwam, repair his moccasins and hunting gear, and cook a stew for dinner. And every day the two older sisters would leave the youngest to do the work, and go into town. From sitting over the stew pot for long periods of time, this girl’s lovely black hair was soon singed by the flying embers, which earned her the nickname Little Burnt One.

Fireflies at dusk


The Contest

Now on the other shore of the lake lived a great chief and his sister.  The chief brought back game for his sister, skinning and working the deer hides until they were soft.  She wore the finest moccasins and dresses cut from them.  The chief also wore fine moccasins, and these were all that the villagers could see, for this chief was invisible. One spring, his sister announced that her brother, the Great Chief, would marry any girl that could see him. So all the girls from all the surrounding villages flocked in, all wearing their finest beads and gowns.  Each took a turn walking along the shore of the lake with the chief’s sister.  These foolish girls all answered, yes, they could certainly see the handsome chief.

Then his sister asked, “Of what is his shoulder strap made?” And the girls said, “Of a strip of rawhide.” “And with what does he draw his sled?” And they replied, “With a green withe.”  Then she knew that they had not seen him at all, and said quietly, “No, that is not my brother.”

The Test of the False Sisters

Now it was the time for Little Burnt-Face’s sisters to walk along the shore. They put on their finest blankest and brightest strings of beads, and plaited their hair beautifully, and slipped embroidered moccasins on their feet and walked along the shore. But when asked to identify the material from which his shoulder strap was made, the girls could only guess.  Their answer, that it was made of rawhide, drew another question.  How does he draw his sled? The same way any man does, they said, with a green withe.  So his sister knew that they were lying.

Help from Other Worlds

That night, as Little Burnt-Face wept alone, the spirit of her mother came to her. “Go seek the Invisible One himself.”  “But who would want such a sorry sight? My hair is singed off, and my face is as full of burns and scars as a sieve is full of holes.” “Find my white deerskin dress and my moccasins, and take three raven feathers for your hair. Now go. Carry your canoe to the shore and float into the middle of the lake so no one hears and then paddle toward the fire you will see.”

Little Burnt-Face did as she was told. As she approached the fire on the other shore, she saw the wigwam of the Invisible One, and outside it, his sister.

The Test of True Vision

Trembling, she explained why she had come, and gently the sister asked if the girl could see her brother.  “I do! I do!” said Little Burnt-Face with awe. “And he is wonderful!” “What does he use for his sled-string?” “It is a beautiful Rainbow!” “But my sister,” said the other, “what is his bow-string?” “His bowstring,” replied Little Burnt-Face, “is the Milky Way!” So the chief’s sister knew that the girl had true vision.

She led her into the wigwam, bathing her with dew until the burns and scars vanished from her body and face.  Her skin became soft and lovely again.  Her hair grew long and dark like the Blackbird’s wing and the chief’s sister braided it with raven feathers. She then took the white deerskin dress and from among her treasured possessions added beads and shells, making a wedding garment. Little-Burnt Face shone with radiant joy.

And then drew near the Great Chief: no longer invisible, but terrible and beautiful. And when he saw Little Burnt-Face, he smiled and said gently,

“So we have found each other!”
And she answered, “Yes.”
“And what is your name?”
When she told him what she was called, he said,
“From now on, you will be called Little Firefly.”