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The Cedar Baskets

This version of the legend was written by our Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara volunteer, who prefers to remain anonymous.

Once a Mandan woman who was gathering roots fell asleep under a cedar tree and had a vision. She dreamed the cedar tree spoke to her and said "Make a basket from my roots and your work will be easier." The woman immediately did what the cedar tree said. To her amazement, the basket she made came to life. "Here I am to help you."

She filled the basket and it walked back to the village on its own. She didn't have to carry it. The other Mandan women were amazed. "Where did you get this sacred basket?" The woman with the basket said "The cedar tree told me how to make it. Come, I will show you." She wasn't selfish. She showed all the women in the tribe how to make sacred cedar baskets. From then on, none of the women in that village had to carry their own loads when they were harvesting corn or gathering roots or anything else. The baskets did all the heavy lifting. The women were very pleased.

But eventually the baskets quit. What happened was a young woman, a girl who was lazy and not well behaved, happened to find a cache of ground beans that the bean mice had hidden away for the winter. Those beans grow underground and are very hard for people to get, but bean mice are hard-working animals and they tunnel around and find all those beans that are growing there and store them. When a Mandan woman found a bean mouse cache, she was supposed to trade corn kernels for the beans she took. It's easy for Mandan women to grow corn, but bean mice can't do it, so that's a fair trade. That's the way they always did it. Those beans were good for cooking with.

But this girl was lazy and she didn't want to go back to the village for corn. She just took all the beans and put them in her cedar basket. She didn't even leave any for the bean mice. They were the ones who did all the work, but she took all the food and left them to starve.

But when she turned to go home, her basket didn't follow her. "What is wrong with this basket?" It didn't want to work for her anymore. The girl was so angry she kicked the basket. Then all the cedar baskets became just ordinary baskets. They quit and the women in that village had to carry their own baskets like everyone else. That's what happens when you don't appreciate the ones that help you.

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More stories to read:

 Native American dream legends
 Stories about mice
 Stories about beans
 Stories about fairness

Learn more about:

 Mandan mythology
 Mandan language
 Mandan people



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