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The Stretching Tree
This version of the legend comes from Stith Thompson's 1929 collection Tales of the North American Indian.
Once an old man and a young man and two women lived together. The two women were the young man's wives. Now, the young man needed some feathers for his arrows. One day, seeing a hawk's nest in a high tree, he started to climb to it to get the hawk-feathers. Now, the old man was jealous of the young man, and had followed him. And when he saw him climbing the tree, he used his magic and made the tree grow higher and higher, and at the same time peeled off all the bark so that the trunk was slippery; and as the young man was naked, he could not come down, but had to remain in the top of the tree. When the young man failed to appear that night, the old man said he wished to move camp, and that the women were to come with him. And the next morning they started. Now, one of the women liked the old man; but the other one, who had a baby, disliked him, and when they camped for the night, she would take her baby, and make a fire for herself outside the camp and away from the old man. So they went on for several days.
All this time the young man stayed up in the tree; and as it was cold and he had no clothes, he took his hair, which was very long, and wove feathers in it, and so made a blanket to protect himself. The little birds who built their nests in the sticks of the hawk's nest tried their best to carry him down to the ground, but could not lift him, and so he stayed on.
Finally one day he saw coming, a long way off, an old woman bent over, and with a stick in each hand. She came to the bottom of the tree where the young man was, and began to climb, and climbed until she reached the young man, and then she turned out to be Spider. Then Spider spun a web for him, and of the web the young man made a rope and so reached the ground.
When he came back to his camp, he found it deserted, but discovered the trail of the fugitives, and started to follow. He trailed them a long time, and finally saw them in the distance. Now, the woman who did not like the old man was following behind with her little boy; and the child, looking back, saw his father and cried out, "Why, there is my father!" But the mother replied, "What do you mean? Your father has been dead a long time." But looking back herself, she saw her husband, and waited for him to come up, and they stopped together.
Then she told her husband all that had happened, how the old man had wished to take both his wives, and how she would not have him, but how the other one took him. Now, the woman was carrying a large basket, and she put her husband into it and covered him up. When they reached the old man's camp she put the basket down close to the fire; but the old man took it and placed it some distance away. The woman brought it back and as she did so the young man sprang out and struck the old man and killed him. Then he killed his faithless wife; and taking the other woman, who was true, and the little boy, they went back to their old home together.
More stories to read:
Native American spider myths
Legends about abandonment
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