A long time ago, some Indian tribes used dyed porcupine quills instead of beads to decorate their clothes. The Cheyenne Indians tell the story of a young girl who did excellent quillwork. The clothes she made were so beautiful they seemed to glow.
Once she spent weeks making and decorating a set of white buckskin clothes for a man. It was the kind of outfit a girl might make for a boyfriend or for a brother whom she loved very much.
But the girl didn’t have a brother. Or an admirer. Her mother wondered what was going on. Her mother wondered even more when the girl spent an entire year making six more outfits.
Then the girl told her mother, "I have heard of a family of seven brothers who have no sister. The clothes are for them." And she said goodbye to her mother and went to look for the young men.
After a long journey, she met a little boy. He told her that he lived with six older brothers, who had all gone hunting. She gave him the smallest set of clothes. He tried them on, and they fit perfectly. The girl told him she would be his sister.
Later that day, the boy’s brothers returned from their hunt, carrying lots of buffalo meat. They loved their splendid buckskin outfits, and were happy to hear that they had a new sister.
On day when the girl and the youngest brother were home alone, they heard someone knocking at the doorflap of their tepee. The boy was surprised to see a little buffalo calf. The calf said to him, "Give us your sister. The buffalo tribe wants her."
The boy said, "What? We will not! Don’t be ridiculous!"
"Watch out," said the calf. "Tomorrow someone bigger will be here."
The next day, the sister and brother heard a loud knocking, It was a buffalo heifer, or young cow, who said, "The buffaloes want your sister. Give her to us."
"Never!" the boy said, and went inside.
"Well, someone bigger will be here tomorrow," said the heifer.
The next day a big old buffalo cow knocked on the doorflap. "We want your sister to come and live with us."
"No!" said the boy.
"You’ll be sorry," said the cow, "when you see who comes tomorrow."
The next day, all seven brothers stayed home with their adopted sister. As they sat nervously in their tent, they heard a distant rumble. They felt the ground shaking beneath them. Then something pounded at the tent flap. It was a huge buffalo bull, angry and steaming with impatience, followed by the whole buffalo herd.
"Give me your sister!"
"No!" said the boys.
"If I can’t have her, I will kill you, " said the buffalo. The boys looked at each other. What should they do?
The youngest brother knew. "Quick! Climb that tree!" There was a big cottonwood growing nearby. They scrambled up in its branches. The boy shot an arrow into the tree trunk. Woosh! The tree suddenly grew. It carried them all up in the air, far away from the buffalo.
The full butted the tree with his huge head. Slam! The tree shook. The boy shot another arrow into the branches, and the tree grew again. As the buffalo slammed into the trunk again and again, the boy shot arrows into the tree until it grew as high as the sky.
Just as the trunk was about to break, the boys and their sister began to glow. They turned into stars — the stars of the Big Dipper.
If you go outside on a clear April evening and face north, you will see the Big Dipper directly overhead. Some people say that the littlest brother is the star at the end of the Dipper’s handle. but I think he must be Alcor, the tiny star that sparkles next to the middle star in the Dipper’s handle. Now that you’ve heard this story, take a look at the Dipper yourself. What do you think?