Once there was an Indian camp, and in it lived a boy. His parents were very poor, and had no ponies. The boy was fond of ponies, and often sat on the bank of the creek, while the other boys were watering theirs.
One day the boy made up his mind to have a pony of his own. He crossed the creek, and got some wood, and built a little corral. He then took a quantity of sticky mud to the corral, and made two ponies of mud. He got some white clay, and put it on the head of one; so that it was white-faced.
Then the boy was happy! Every morning he went to the corral, and carried his mud ponies down to the creek, and dipped their noses in the water. Then he took them back to the corral again. He heaped grass and green cottonwood shoots before them, and took as good care of them as if they were real ponies.
Well, one day the boy went to see his mud ponies, and he found that one of them had crumbled to dust. He felt so badly that he cried; and after that he took even better care of the one that was left. It was the one with the white face.
On another morning, while the boy was in his corral, the people broke camp, and went on a Buffalo hunt. The boy's parents looked everywhere for him, and when they could not find him, they had to go away without him. And when he went back to the place where the camp had been, all the people were gone!
He cried and cried, and wandered about picking up pieces of dried meat the people had thrown away. When night came, he lay down and cried himself to sleep. Then he dreamed that a white-faced pony came to him, and said: "My Son, you are poor, and Mother Earth has taken pity on you, and has given me to you. I am a part of her."
Well, when the boy woke up, it was broad daylight. He rose and went to his corral to look after his mud pony. And what did he see standing in front of the corral, but a fine little pony with a white face! It was pawing the ground, and tossing its mane.
The boy rubbed his eyes to see if it was a real pony. He went up to it, and stroked its sides; and it whinnied with joy, and sniffed at his fingers. So he got a piece of rope, and put it round the pony's neck, and led it down to the water.
But the pony would not drink at all, and said like the one in his dream:—
"My Son, you are poor, and Mother Earth has taken pity on you, and has given me to you. I am your Mud Pony."
Then the boy was filled with joy, and rubbed the pony down, and was very proud of it. Just as he was going to lead it back to the corral, the Pony said:—
"My Son, you must do all I tell you to do, and some day you will become a great Chief. Now, jump on my back, and we will find your people. Do not try to guide me, for I know where to go."
The boy, delighted, jumped on the Pony's back, and away they went swiftly over the plain. They travelled all that day, and when evening was come, they reached a place where the people had camped the night before. But they had all gone on farther.
The boy jumped down, and turned the Pony loose to graze, but it would not eat. It only said: "Do not mind me. Go and find something to eat for yourself." So the boy wandered about the deserted camp, picking up bits of food the people had dropped. When his hunger was satisfied, he lay down and went to sleep. In the morning he rose, and jumped on the Pony, and away they went across the plain.
In the evening, the same thing happened as before; they stopped at a deserted camp, the boy ate and slept, and in the morning he and the Pony journeyed on. The next night, they reached the camp where the people were stopping. Then the Pony said:—
"Leave me here outside the camp, and go to your tepee, and wake your mother. I will stay here and take care of myself, for I do not need anything to eat and drink, because I am a part of Mother Earth. All I need is a blanket to keep the dew and rain off me, or I shall melt. To-morrow, when the people break camp, stay behind, and I will be ready for you."
The boy entered the camp, as the Pony told him to do, and went into his parents' tepee. He sat down, and threw some dried grass on the coals in the fireplace, and the flames blazed up. Then he went to his mother's bed, and woke her, saying, "Mother, here I am!"
His mother opened her eyes, and at first she thought she was dreaming, then she put out her hand and touched him. And when she knew it was really her son, she rose with joy, and waked her husband. He got up, too, and threw logs on the fire, and ran and called the boy's relations. They came crowding in, and were glad to see him safe and well.
The next morning the people broke camp, and the boy told them to go on without him. And they did. The Pony came, and the boy mounted on its back, and away they went swiftly across the plain. At night they caught up with the people, and the Pony stayed outside the camp. In the morning it happened as before. So it was for four days.
On the fourth night, the Pony said: "My Son, take me into the camp, so that the people may see what a nice Pony you have. The Chief will hear about me, and wish to buy me. He will offer you several horses. Take them, and let him have me in exchange. But he will not keep me long!"
So the boy rode the Pony straight into the camp, and the people were astonished to see him on its back. When they examined it, they said: "Why, it looks like a mud pony, such as boys smooth down with their fingers. It is a wonderful pony!"
When the Chief heard about it, he sent for the boy. He welcomed him respectfully and made him sit on a cushion. Then he said:—
"My Son, I have sent for you to eat with me. I wish to tell you that I like your pony, and will give you four of my best horses for it."
The boy replied: "I have listened to the great Chief. I will let the Chief have my pony."
The Chief was pleased, and his wife filled a wooden bowl with dried meat and soup; and put two horn spoons into the bowl. She set this before her husband and the boy, and they ate together.
After that the Chief had the four horses caught, and drove them to the boy's tepee. He took the Pony, and led it to his own corral. He put grass before it, but it would not eat. He piled young cottonwood boughs before it, but still it would not eat.
A few days after, scouts came riding into the camp, and they said that a great herd of Buffalo was near. So the men got on their horses, and rode to the hunt, and the Chief went with them, mounted on the Mud Pony. He soon far outstripped the rest, and killed many Buffalo. But as he was riding over the plain, the Pony staggered and nearly fell. Its feet had become unjointed, and it was ruined.
Then the Chief was terribly angry, and, returning to the camp, he ordered the boy to give him back his four horses, and take the Pony. The boy was delighted, and led his Mud Pony home. In a few days it was as well as ever. Then the Chief wished to have it back, but the boy would not give it to him for any number of horses.
Well, from that day on, when the boy went hunting, mounted on the Mud Pony, he killed more Buffalo than the men did. And when he went on the war-path, no one could hurt him, but he always conquered the enemy. After a few years he became a great Chief. He still loved his Mud Pony very much, and tied Eagle feathers on its mane and tail, and covered it carefully at night with a warm blanket.
But one night, he forgot to cover it, and he had a dream. He thought that the Mud Pony came to him and said: "My Son, you are no longer poor. My doings are over. I am returning to Mother Earth, for I am a part of her."
And when he woke in the morning, he found that it was raining hard. He got up and ran to the corral to put a blanket on the Pony, but he could not find the animal anywhere. Then on the side of the hill, he saw a little pile of mud, still in the shape of a pony. And when he saw this, he went home sorrowfully to his tepee.