The Quillwork Girl and her Seven Star Brothers
There was once a young woman who was very good at quillwork. She could make the most beautiful designs and colors. One day she started making a set of clothes for a man, but she didn’t have any brothers or a husband. Once she finished that set of clothes, she made another set of clothes. When she was finished she had seven sets of clothing for men that were the most beautiful anyone had ever seen.
She told her mother she was going to go and find her brothers and take their clothes to them. The mother said she would go with her daughter, but her daughter told her it was too far. The mother said she would go part of the way. They set off. When they reached halfway the mother and the daughter parted.
Eventually, the girl came to a large tipi. A young boy met her, he was the smallest of the brothers. He was overjoyed with his new clothes, which fit him perfectly. The girl went into the tipi and put a set of clothes on each of the six remaining beds. She started cooking and cleaning. The six brothers came home and were very pleased to find her there and took her as their sister. Each of the brothers had some kind of power, but the youngest had the most unique powers.
One day a bison came to the door and demanded to take the girl away to the bison people. The brothers would not give her up. The next day a bigger bison came, but the brothers would not give her up. The third day, an even bigger bison came, but the brothers would not give her up. The fourth day, the ruling bison, the largest of them all, came with the entire bison nation. They demanded the girl, but the brothers would not give her up.
The girl and the seven brothers climbed into a tree. The youngest brother shot it with an arrow and up it grew. Then he shot it again and it grew some more, but the bison below kept trying to knock the tree over. The youngest brother shot the tree two more times. It grew way up into the sky and everyone was able to step off onto the clouds. They knew they could not get down, so the brother turned them into stars. They’re now the big dipper. The girl is the brightest star.
Half of this story is very European in nature. Seven has not been a number I’ve encountered in the Native American tales so far. The main number used in these stories is the number four, which is also used in this story a couple of times. The use of seven is a European thing in my head.
When I was reading the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, seven was a number repeated over and over again, especially in relation to groups of brothers. There were several stories in which there was one sister and seven brothers, much like this story. There was also the story of the seven dwarves. Snow White is what this story reminds me of. It’s like Native American Snow White, but I suppose she needs a different name in the Native American version, like Quillwork Girl.
On an off-to-the-side not, would Quillwork Girl really have been her name? We don’t go around calling each other “Pretty Flower Girl” in English-speaking countries do we? No, we don’t. It’s not exactly our tradition, well, sort of. Some of our names actually do mean something like Pretty Flower Girl, but they’re from Middle English and Old English. In other languages, take Japanese for example, names do mean something like Pretty Flower Girl. The most common ending for a girl’s name in Japan is “ko” which means girl. Quillwork Girl might have actually had a name in Cheyenne that was just one word, but it got translated to English as “Quillwork Girl” because that’s what it meant in Cheyenne.
I really feel as if this story is heavily influenced by European culture. Those European stories were about being unified. They were about sibling love and dedication. This girl wasn’t technically the sister to these brothers, but she adopted them as her brothers. She stood by them and they stood by her. They could have just let the bison take her. They didn’t have to protect her as she wasn’t even her sister.
This story makes a strong case for adopted love as well. These brothers hadn’t even adopted this girl as this sister for very long before they were standing up for her and protecting her. Good for them. You’re supposed to treat someone whom you have adopted as a family member with the same kind of respect and love you treat all the other family members.
Protect your sisters.
Would your brothers have given you to the bison?
Would you give your brothers to the bison?