Children’s Story: He Who Runs Well and Thinks Quickly

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This story is a Native American folktale about a buffalo hunt.   I remember reading this Native American story for the first time in second grade and have never forgotten it.  As a severely asthmatic little girl who couldn’t run very well and who received a lot of unwanted attention from other children who weren’t so sick, I greatly admired this character.

I rewrote several aspects of it to illustrate bullying, perseverance, faith and justice.  “He Who Runs Well and Thinks Quickly”, becomes a hero, because he keeps his faith, shows kindness to others, honored those who loved him, never gave up and was rewarded with justice.

As retold by Patricia K. Turgeon

Long, long ago in the time before white men lived on the wide flat plains of North America, in a smoky hand-painted buffalo hide teepee a baby boy was born. This child was the youngest of four sons born to a brave warrior and his woman. The baby grew, and became a dutiful and thoughtful little boy and tried hard to please his parents.

It was he who was always there to help his mother fetch water or tend the fire. He kept the baskets filled with summer berries and autumn nuts. When the tribe moved to follow the great buffalo herd, he knew how to pack the teepee skins and dismantle the lodge poles better than any of the other children in the tribe.

As years passed, it became obvious to the boy’s parents that he was not as robust as their other sons. He was much smaller than his brothers had been at the same age. Although he showed interest, this boy demonstrated little skill in the fishing, hunting, and riding at which his older brothers excelled. When his brothers would wrestle or play games he only watched. Worst of all, because he was so small, when he did play with other children he would usually get hurt and run away. These things made his older brothers tease him unmercifully. They mocked him continuously, especially in front of their parents. They were jealous of the love the woman had for the small boy, and the time she spent with him.

The woman couldn’t bear to see the boy hurt and shamed. To comfort him, she tell him, “it will take the seeds of patience and endurance through a storm of adversity to grow wisdom and strength”. Although he didn’t have a clue what that meant, he liked to hear his mother say it just the same.

It was a custom, in that tribe, that during a boy’s tenth summer he would leave the company of his mother. He would live with other boys and learn the needed hunting and battle skills needed to become a warrior. This important day was called a naming day. On that day in front of the whole tribe, the father would honor the son by giving him a name. As the date for his naming day approached the boy became more and more excited and looked forward to his new status that he would gain as he became a young man.

Many mornings found the young boy sitting by the big muddy river dreaming of what his name would be. As he watched the dark river’s current swirl around the jagged rocks he wondered, would his father name him after the horse, deer or the sacred wolf? Would his father gift him with a fine pony like those he had given to his brothers?

It was there, on the river’s bank, on his naming day, that his brothers, his father and the tribe found him. Alone he had gone to the river to see his reflection, in the water, in his new beaded buckskin suit that his mother had made for him. She had worked a long time to make his suit out of the softest leather, with beads of the brightest colors. Surely, his father would see him looking so grand and give him a name of which he could always be proud.

The boy’s jealous older brothers had followed him and began to pester him. They poked, pushed and shoved him. His new suit became ripped and the multi-colored beads scattered and bounced on the ground at his feet. When the boy turned to run away, as he had always done in the past, he found that he had no place to go, for he was at the river’s edge.

As he stood there with his new clothes stained and torn, his father approached with the chief and rest of the tribe following closely behind. The boy was filled with anger toward his brothers. Then, to his horror, he felt a tear slide down his cheek.

His father saw the tear and his heart hardened toward his youngest son. The proud father was filled with a terrible rage, because his youngest child had shamed his family by crying in front of the entire tribe. He raised his hand and pointed at the boy and said, “I give you the name of Small Crying Bird so that everyone will always remember that you fly way from danger and cry.”

Then, his father, brothers and the other warriors turned and walked away leaving Small Crying Bird with the women and children. Small Crying Bird would never become a warrior.

Days passed and Small Crying Bird’s mother realized that no matter how she begged her husband, he would not softened his heart towards their youngest son. Small Crying Bird’s father heart hardened against her too and he cast them both out of his lodge. She prayed to the great spirit to come to help her and her youngest son. Surely the great spirit had a place in the circle of life for them.

The summer days passed and soon the time came to move the camp to the fall hunting grounds. While the warriors trained their ponies, made new arrows and talked of the hunt. Small Crying Bird helped the women take down the teepees, gather food and prepare to leave their camp by the big muddy river to follow the great buffalo herd.

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This was the most important time of the year for Small Crying Bird’s people. The buffalo were his people. For without the buffalo his people could not survive. They used the buffalo’s hide to make their homes and clothes. They ate the meat to stay strong. A successful fall hunt meant that Small Crying Bird’s people would not starve when the days grew short and cold, the snow deep and wild game scarce. In stead, they would be in warm lodges and well fed.

When everyone was ready for the move, the chief sent out warriors to look for the great buffalo herd. The strongest warriors with the fastest horses rode off to find the great buffalo herd. This was not difficult, for the great buffalo herd was huge! It stretched from horizon to horizon as far the eye could see. Buffalo could run past for several days before the last of them passed by. So imagine the surprise of the entire tribe when their scouts returned several days later and couldn’t find a trace of the buffalo herd.

The warriors and chief met, held council and again scouts were sent out and again they returned with no news of the buffalo. Many prayers from the people were sent to the great spirit and still there was no signs of those huge hairy beasts.

Small Crying Bird knew that unless the buffalo were found many of his people would not see another summer for the very young and old, the sick and the outcast would not survive the winter. So Small Crying Bird left the camp and went alone out into the vast grass prairie on a vision quest to seek out the great spirit and ask for his aid in saving his people.

During his vision quest the days passed slowly for Small Crying Bird, alone in the ocean of grass with no food or water, he praised and prayed to the great spirit. Then, he saw a great black cloud take the sun hostage. The sun struggled with the cloud to be free and sent volleys of golden arrows coursing through the heavens. As the cloud tightened its hold over the sun, the sun became angrier and great tears fell from his eyes. The sun’s tears rumbled as they struck ground driving the dust of the earth high into the sky.

Black dust billows rose and swirled into the heavens, as the sun’s tears puddled on the earth making a land of ten-thousand lakes. The great dark mass of dust thundered overhead moved east to becoming the great buffalo herd. Out in front of the herd was a great black bull buffalo and he was leading the herd away from the people’s sacred buffalo hunting grounds into the big woods. When the dust had cleared, the sun was again free shining warmer and brighter than it had before.

Small Crying Bird ran back to his tribe to tell them of his vision. When he returned to the camp Small Crying Bird avoided his father and brothers and went to speak directly to the chief to tell him of his vision. The chief being a very wise man listened. He then told Small Crying Bird that he would send the scouts out one more time and if they found no trace of the great buffalo herd he would send one warrior out toward the rising sun and into the land of many lakes and big woods. Within a week the warrior was sent east and he found the buffalo herd.

When the tribe hunted the buffalo on the plains they would chase the buffalo on with their horses and stampede the herd off a cliff. The buffalo would fall to their death and the tribe would have food for many months. In the big woods there would be no cliff. This posed a problem, so the chief and the warriors met in council to plan their hunt wisely. They decided that they would build a huge corral made out of the large trees that grew in the big woods. Then, they would send out a group of warriors on their best ponies to stampede the buffalo into the log-sided, brush and grass camouflaged corral

The women and older children would hide in the brush on either side of the corral wearing wolf pelts over their heads and backs as disguises. As the buffalo drew near they were to stand up, shake their wolf pelts and make loud noises to keep the buffalo running straight ahead into the trap. Once the buffalo were inside the corral, the braves would slide the remaining logs into place trapping the buffalo inside. From the top of the stockade the braves could then safely hunt the trapped bison.

It was already late in the summer and the forest was beginning to show signs of fall. The wise chief decided it was better to share the secret whereabouts of the buffalo herd with other tribes than not to have a successful hunt.

To send messages between tribes, Small Crying Bird’s people used a runner. A runner was a warrior who was swift, brave and could run great distances without tiring. Since all of the braves were busy building the stockade, none of the tribe’s runners wanted to carry the message to the neighboring tribes. So, the chief sent Small Crying Bird to bring the news of the buffalo to the great spirit’s other children.

After running away from his brothers for most of his life, Small Crying Bird had no trouble running all day from village to village carrying the news of the Buffalo. Soon, a great gathering of Native Americans gathered in the big woods and the stockade quickly became a reality. The time to begin the hunt had come.

Standing beside his mother, Small Crying Bird watched his father, brothers and the other warriors leave for the hunt. As his father rode past him, he reined in his pony and with a smile, he handed Small Crying Bird a bow and quiver filled with arrows, then his father quickly joined the hunting party. Small Crying Bird knew great joy in his father’s gift, until he looked down at the bow and realized that it was the kind little boys used—just a toy.

Humiliated and hurt he watched his father and brothers ride away laughing at him. He then quietly picked up a wolf pelt and followed his mother to where they were to wait in the woods.

Down by the hidden stockade wearing a wolf pelt, Small Crying Bird watched the cloud of dust rising high into the sky on the horizon that signaled the buffalo herd was approaching. Every one was so quiet, all that they had and could hope for depended on the success of the chief’s plan. Then the ground began to shake, and he could hear the low rumble the heavy animal’s hooves wildly pounding the turf.

As they grew near the screams and shouts of the warriors on their painted ponies could be heard over staccato rhythm of the charging bison. All at once he could see them. Huge, humped-backed, bellowing, panting, dark, dusty monsters that meant life or death to his people.

At exactly the right moment he rose from his hiding place shaking the wolf pelt screaming. The trick worked the buffalo ran straight into the corral.

Animal after animal raced past Small Crying Bird as the warriors leapt from their ponies closing the trap by sliding the logs in place to close the hunting pen. Small Crying Bird saw his brothers and father race with their bow’s and arrows towards the trapped buffalo.

To get a better view of the hunt Small Crying Bird climbed to the top of stockade to watch the warriors work. At the far end of the stockade, away from where all the warriors were hunting stood the bull angrily pawing the dirt–a great black bellowing buffalo. He was the biggest buffalo that Small Crying Bird had ever seen.

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Suddenly, he backed up and charged at the logs of the wall ramming into them over and over again with his head. Small Crying Bird watched the large bull with fascination. It was almost as if the animal was trying to break through the wall to lead his herd to safety.

Just as Small Crying Bird was climbing up for a closer look, the logs began to give way to the powerful bull’s charges. Small Crying Bird quickly realized that if the bull broke through the stockade’s wall the rest of the herd would follow him and the hunt would be lost. He frantically waved his wolf pelt in the air and screamed at the bull, but the animal just kept charging the wall. Over and over he crashed into it.

Small Crying Bird jumped off the wall and raced to where his father and brothers were hunting. He urgently tried to warn the warriors about the charging bull, but they were so absorbed in their own hunting that they didn’t even look up and see him.

Small Crying Bird left them and raced back to where the bull had created a hole in the wall. By the time Small Crying Bird returned, the buffalo had almost gained his freedom.

It was then that he remembered the bow and quiver that his father had given him that morning. Small Crying Bird had never before shot at anything so big as that black bull buffalo with such a small bow, but now was a time for action not thinking. He quickly fitted an arrow into his bow and let it fly. It struck the great beast in the back right behind the hump. The animal muscled his strength and leapt for the hole in the wall.

Small Crying Bird let another arrow fly. This one flew straight into the mighty beast’s heart and downed him. As the body of the great bull fell, it filled the hole in the wall and blocked the escape of any of the other buffalo. The hunt was saved.

Small Crying Bird left the stockade and walked back to camp to help his mother. When he returned with the women, he noticed the chief, of his tribe, and many warriors, from all the tribes, standing by the large black bull buffalo that he had killed.

The chief signaled that he wanted silence. Then, he asked who had killed the great animal that had been so wise, brave and strong that he had broken through the stockade’s wall. He pulled an arrow from the beast and asked to whom the arrow belonged.

Small Crying Bird’s father, flushed with embarrassment, as he recognized the arrow shaft that he had made and given to his youngest son that very morning. Accusingly, Small Crying Bird’s father pointed at his youngest son, telling everyone that it was Small Crying Bird’s arrow that had killed the brave and noble beast.

The chief slowly walked over to where Small Crying Bird stood beside his mother. “Small Crying Bird, is this your arrow,” asked the chief. “Yes,” Small Crying Bird replied truthfully.

“You, my young one, saved the entire hunt with this toy arrow. For if the bull buffalo had broken free of our trap his cows would have followed him and the hunt would have been lost,” said the Chief.

Then, the chief looked directly at Small Crying Bird’s father and brothers, as he spoke tears of outrage coursed down the chief’s cheeks for all of the people to see. “You have named this young one to always remind him that he flies away and cries. But, tears are not a sign of weakness, they are a sign of a strong heart torn when injustice speaks.

You hardened your heart against Small Crying Bird and his mother. Yet when the buffalo were lost to us, of all our children, only Small Crying Bird trusted in his faith and went on a vision quest to find the great spirit–to seek his aid and save the very people that had cast him and his mother out. It was his faith that led us here. Yet, you did not change his name.

When a runner was needed to travel great distances to find the other tribes and bring them to this place. Your youngest son went alone and quickly the people were gathered together. Still, you did not bring him and his mother back into your lodge.

Today, you gifted him with a child’s bow and arrows to humiliate him further, and left him with his mother while you and his brothers proudly rode together to the hunt. While he stands here before all of our people, the outcast you made him, you stand there flushing with shame and embarrassment over Small Crying Bird’s arrow shaft being held in my hand. Yet, with this toy, he was the one who saved us all.

Throughout his young life of adversity, he has shown respect, patience and forgiveness toward others, even when he never received any in return. It was not weakness, but wisdom that made him wait until time gave him the strength to endure life’s storms.

The Chief turned to his people and said, “Now I will gift him with a name! From this day forward Small Crying Bird will be known as, He Who Runs Well and Thinks Quickly. He will live in my lodge. He will be my son! His mother will be honored among our women. And, I will gift him with my finest war pony the golden palomino, Shining Sun, to remind all of you that he is my shining son and I am proud to be his father.”


That is how He Who Runs Well and Thinks Quickly got his name. He grew up to be the tribe’s best runner, a brave warrior, a great chieftain and a very wise father



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