How will Little Squirrel protect her people from the Shawnee?
A heavy clay pot ground into Little Squirrel’s shoulder as she trudged through the towering oaks. Here she was, in her fourteenth spring, doing woman’s work when all she wanted was to hunt with her father and brothers. Her hands longed for the twang of a bow and the whiz of an arrow shaft leaving to find its mark. The leaves of a nearby bush rustled, causing Little Squirrel to freeze, nostrils flaring, and listen intently. Perhaps a chipmunk, she thought, or a squirrel.
In the clearing, Little Squirrel lowered the pot with a groan and a thud. Glancing up, she saw Beaver Woman lumbering toward her, strong and heavy as a grizzly bear with eyes cold as an icy pond and words that flew like sharp knives. Little Squirrel thought sullenly that, since she was not allowed to hunt, she should have been left back at home camp with her mother and infant sister instead of being dragged to this hunting camp to be tortured by Beaver Woman.
“Were you playing at the river, you lazy one? Come, there are animals to skin and meat to hang out to dry before the hunters return at the new moon.”
“Yes, Beaver Woman,” Little Squirrel murmured, her hands flicking two shining black braids off her sloping shoulders. Humble work for the daughter of a Kickapoo chief, she thought bitterly.
Fighting her anger, the girl remembered the stranger who had come to her village, a man with hair like corn silk and skin the color of the pale moon. What stories he told, stories of a God like no other Little Squirrel had ever known, a God who had the power to help in any trouble; and of a God-Man, Jesus, who wanted her to love and not be angry. Little Squirrel had wept when her father sent the man away. But as hard as she tried, she was still angry. And it was impossible to love Beaver Woman.
“Hurry, Little Squirrel,” Beaver Woman whispered, glancing nervously over her shoulder. “I fear the Shawnee will punish us for this hunt on their land.”
Little Squirrel knew the hunt was taking place on Shawnee land because the Kickapoos’ land had grown smaller as the white man built his cabins and the tribe needed more food before the winter.
“We have seen no Shawnee since setting up camp,” retorted Little Squirrel, determined to be cross. “Only a fitful wind sighs in the trees.”
Beaver Woman ignored her.
“Remember,” she warned, “we will meet in the cave below the falls if the Shawnee attack.”
The next morning, Little Squirrel awoke as dawn’s red rays fought the darkness. Beyond the trees the river whooshed fat and fast between its banks. She listened to the snores of Beaver Woman and the men left behind at camp to guard the women and the meat. Then soft swishing sounds echoed through the dimness as shadows emerged from the trees.
Little Squirrel sprang to her feet. “Shawnee,” she screamed. “Oh, wake up; wake up!” Kickapoo braves rose to meet the attacking Shawnee while Little Squirrel, in a daze, stumbled to the edge of the clearing, crawling behind a bush.
As she crouched among the leafy branches, the girl saw Kickapoo braves, outnumbered 10 to 1 by the Shawnee, escaping in the confusion of battle. They glided past her, hidden by the morning mist curling against the trees, disappearing as quickly as deer flash brown against the green leaves.
Before she could follow, a rough hand grabbed the neck of her deerskin dress and dragged her, struggling like a trapped animal, back into the clearing. Her Shawnee captor pushed her down next to . . .
“Beaver Woman,” Little Squirrel cried out. “You’re alive.”
“Yes, my child,” whispered Beaver Woman. “But hush now.” Though dirty and rumpled, the older squaw’s eyes shone cool and clear.
Little Squirrel listened to the angry sounds of the Shawnee huddled around her. She knew they were angry some Kickapoo warriors had escaped and would stop at nothing, even torture, to find their hiding place.
Oh, Jesus, the pale-faced man said You are all powerful. Help me to think of a way to save myself and my people.
Then a Shawnee with war paint smeared on his face stood before them, holding a blazing stick. Both women knew what would follow. Little Squirrel quickly signed to the Shawnee that she wished to talk to Beaver Woman. The Shawnee, hoping for more information, nodded shortly. The women were allowed to converse briefly in their own language.
But Beaver Woman, staring at her in disbelief, said in a voice that quivered with anger, “We have nothing to say to each other, my daughter. Prepare to die with honor!”
“Beaver Woman … wait!” Little Squirrel begged. “I have a plan. Last summer, when father and I tracked a large grizzly, we drove him into a pit to be killed by the warriors. These Shawnee are strong like the bear, but they too can be tricked.”
Then in quiet words the girl told Beaver Woman her plan. The older woman’s eyes held a certain sparkle when she had finished.
“This is good, my child. And we have little to lose.”
Little Squirrel signed to the Shawnee that the Kickapoo hideout was on a tree-shrouded stream that forked off just above the falls. The Shawnee, looking puzzled, discussed the matter. Then they pushed the women in the direction of the river. Little Squirrel sighed in relief. She hoped that fear of the falls had kept the Shawnee from exploring that area.
Soon she and Beaver Woman were seated in separate canoes that flew swift as a salmon in the current, guarded in front and back by Shawnee paddlers. As the rapids increased, Little Squirrel could see the Shawnee tense. Jesus, she thought, keep my face still. And, though her heart was pounding wildly, the girl calmly pointed. Up there; up there, she signed. The fork is just ahead.
The river, now a raging torrent, ripped the paddles from the Shawnee’s hands. Finding no saving turnoff, the Shawnee panicked as the falls thundered downwards just ahead.
Little Squirrel watched the rocks at the river’s edge and suddenly sprang, overturning the canoe. As she hit the rocks, blackness enveloped her. The girl awoke with pain and bruises swelling on her arms and ribs. Laying sprawled on the rocks, she saw no signs of the canoes, or of Beaver Woman. Had the squaw been able to escape?
“Beaver Woman; Beaver Woman,” she cried, her anxious shouts echoing in the roar of the falls.
It was then her father appeared at the woods’ edge.
“Father,” she cried. “Beaver Woman, where is she?”
“We found her body, along with the Shawnee, at the bottom of the falls,” her father said, lifting her gently from the rocks. “How thankful I am to find you alive, my daughter.”
Afterwards Little Squirrel was renamed Princess Falling Water and was held in great esteem by her tribe, taking part in every hunt. But most importantly, she persuaded her father to let the pale-faced preacher return to their village.
“For,” Little Squirrel told her father, “I called on Jesus, and he saved me, both from the Shawnee and from the raging falls.”
Beaver Woman was not forgotten, for the story of the Women of the Falls became Kickapoo legend, told by song and dance around campfires for years to come.