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Kirsten and the Chippewa is part of the Short Stories collections, focusing on Kirsten Larson.


Only in Kirsten and the Chippewa

Story Summary

Kirsten stops scrubbing the soup pot to listen to the icicles dripping. Kirsten hoped the melting ice meant spring was on its way so Papa and Uncle Olav would be home from the logging camp soon. Their cabin seemed much happier and safer when their fathers were home. Lisbeth says it was only the February thaw, and they still had a long cold winter ahead. Anna bets that it was colder here then in Sweden or anywhere else in the world. After supper, the house returned to their chores, Kirsten and her cousins washing the dishes, Mama storing the leftovers, Inger returning to her weaving, and Peter playing with Britta. Mama takes out two dried apple pies and Peter requests a slice, but Mama tells him they had to cool first.

The Chippewa look into the cabin.

Suddenly the window beside the cabin door got dark, and Kirsten looked up only to see lots of Indians standing by the window. Kirsten quickly got to her feet and Caro, who had been by her side, began to bark wildly. When Peter saw the natives he jumped behind Aunt Inger's loom and asked why they were looking at them. Inger pats his shoulder, assuring him it was all right, Indians stopped by here to trade with them from time to time. Britta, left alone on the bed, began to wail and Mama hurried to pick her up. Mama was worried, saying that Indians painted like those were on a raid. When Peter asks what a raid was, Inger explains that sometimes Indians raided each other's camp to steal horses and supplies, and sometimes men were killed in them. Peter was afraid the visitors came over to raid them, but Inger assures him they were only after other Indians.

Inger rose from the bench and beckoned the men in the window. Inger explains these men are the Chippewa, and they must be trying to get even with the Sioux that raided their camp. She explains that the Chippewa and the Sioux have been enemies for as long as they could remember, but they were always friendly to them. Inger opened the door, and Kristen stood close to her cousins as a few men from the raiding party entered. Kirsten had never seen Indians dressed as warriors before, and they weren't a bit like her gentle friend Singing Bird. If they were after the Sioux, Kirsten was relieved Singing Bird's people had gone away for the winter.

Kirsten wished that Lars was home instead of out following the trap line, or that Papa or Uncle Lars would walk in through the door right now. Caro continued to bark and the youngest warrior, hardly older then a boy, scowled at the dog. Afraid he might hurt Caro, Kirsten grabbed her dog by the collar and kept him close. The boy glanced at her before looking away.

Aunt Inger nodded to the oldest warrior, greeting him as Five Swans, and asking what could they do for them today. Five Swans says they were in a hurry today as he took a look into the cheese box. Another man picked up a spoon, inspected it, pretended to eat and laughed. The Youngest Warrior spotted the pies and pointed to them before pointing to the four prairie chickens hanging from his belt. Five Swans asks if they would trade and Inger says it was a fair trade. Peter protests, but Inger explains that they needed the meat and they could always make more pies.

Inger cut the pie into sections and offered to get plates, but each warrior grabbed a slice with their bare hands and ate hungrily. Ana whispers to Kirsten, surprised the pies weren't too hot for them. Inger glances at the girls, telling them it wasn't polite to stand there gawking and reminds them they still had work to finish. Anna stepped boldly among the warriors to pick up the empty pie tin and add it to the wash bucket.

The Youngest Warrior teases Kirsten.

Kirsten tied Caro to the bed and began to wash the tins. The Youngest Warrior came over to watch her work, standing close enough for Kirsten to see the dried blood on his knife. Kirsten worries over why he was watching her as she scrubbed the pie tin. The young warrior said something in a gruff voice to the other men and they all began to laugh. Kirsten looked up and saw the Youngest Warrior imitating the way she was scrubbing. He spoke again and the others laughed even harder. Five Swans grins and explains he called her an esiban, a raccoon, because the way she washed the dishes was like a raccoon washing it's food.

Anna, Lisbeth and Peter giggled, Inger smiled and even Mama's lips turned up, but Kirsten felt herself blush. Kristen's fear changed to anger, feeling like he had no business to make fun of her with that stupid name. Kirsten turned to the fire to hide her angry blush, but when the Youngest Warrior repeated 'Esiban', Kirsten whirled around and called him an ugly muskrat to his face.

Kirsten immediately regretted it and covered her mouth, and Mama looked anxiously at the natives as she told Kirsten to mind her manners. Inger tells Five Swans not to take offense, that Kirsten was just a little girl, and Five Swans says she was a little girl who talks too much. He slapped the Youngest Warrior on the back and explains that she called him a maanaadiz waajashk, which made the warriors laugh even harder, including the Youngest Warrior. The boy's eyes narrowed, and Kirsten wasn't sure if he was glaring at her, and regrets blurting out that awful name.

The men were still chuckling as they left, and Caro continued to bark from where he was tied. Kirsten watches the men disappear into the woods and she asks Inger if they would stop by here again after the raid. Aunt Inger says they never know when they'll see them again, but warns next time they do see them, and Kirsten finishes her sentence, promising to do no more name calling.

That night, as Kirsten crept into bed with Peter and her cousins, she heard eerie howls from the forest. Kirsten says the wolves were calling to each other again, but Lisbeth suggests it could be war whoops from the Indians doing their war dance. Peter asks if a war dance was better or worse then wolves as he pulled the blanket up to his ears.

Anna held Kirsten's hands, noting that the Youngest Warrior really did bother Kirsten. She giggles that Kirsten's hands really did look like little paws and calls her Miss Raccoon, but Kirsten miserably says it wasn't funny. The name still made Kirsten prickle, but she still regretted being rude to the boy, fearing that she made him angry and he would try to get even with her. Lisbeth says he was just teasing and Anna takes back what she said, saying she was just teasing too, like Lisbeth was with the war whoops. Anna asks if Lisbeth was teasing about that, but Lisbeth wasn't as certain anymore and says they should go to sleep so morning will come again soon.

Anna snuggled against Kirsten and squeezed her hand and Kirsten squeezed back. Kirsten couldn't stay cross at her, but she couldn't fall asleep. After Mama blew out the candles, the howls seemed to come closer and louder, and their house seemed so much smaller and vulnerable.

The next morning, the icicles were still melting, and after breakfast Mama asked Kirsten to see if the ice on the river had melted, that maybe they won't have to melt snow for water today. Kirsten went out with Caro, both enjoying the mild weather. At the stream, Kirsten looked for a place to dip her bucket, but the ice along the shore hadn't melted at all. The ice farther out, where the current was swifter, had melted in patches, but Kirsten knew better to walk out on thawing ice to open water.

As Kirsten studied the stream, a rabbit leaped from the bushes and Caro chased after it. The rabbit bounded for the middle of the stream, made a swift turn back, and dashed ashore. Caro tried to follow, but the rabbit turned too quickly for him and he tumbled on his side. Kristen laughed seeing him slip on the ice, then gasped as he skidded towards the open water. Caro, unable to stop himself, slid off the ice and into the water and went under. Kirsten called out for him and she could barely see his head pop out a little way downstream. Caro was able to get his forefeet onto the ice, but it was clear he wouldn't be able to drag himself out of the icy water. If she couldn't pull him out quickly, the dog would go numb in the water and drown.

Caro falls into the stream.

Caro whined pitifully and Kirsten cries out that she was coming. Without thinking, she stepped on the ice, but it groaned and cracked under her and she lept back. If she fell in, she could drown too. Kirsten was frantic to save Caro, but how? Kirsten tried to brainstorm, wondering if she had time to run back and get a board, but Caro was already losing strength and began to whimper. Kirsten called out for Caro to have heart as she began to weep.

Suddenly, through her tears, Kristen saw figures coming out of the woods. The Chippewa warriors were returning on the path along the stream, some running, some riding horses. As they came closer, Kirsten saw that one of the runners was the Youngest Warrior. Kristen could see that Five Swans and the man who played with the spoon were injured, noting that the Sioux hadn't let the raiders get away so easily. Kirsten scrubbed away her tears as the warriors surrounded her and looked at Caro in the water.

The Youngest Warrior said something to the others, and Kirsten wondered if he was making another joke about her dog getting into desperate trouble. No one laughed, and instead the Youngest Warrior pulled off his moccasins and leggings and stepped barefoot onto the ice. Kirsten cried aloud as the ice broke under his weight, and he sunk knee-deep into the water. Kirsten thought he'd turn back, but he used his tomahawk to chop a path through the ice and kept wading up to his waist. He grabbed the dog by the scruff, picked him up and waded quickly back to shore.

The Youngest Warrior shows Kirsten his moccasin.

He set the exhausted dog by Kirsten and she wrapped her shawl around the dog. She thanked the boy repeatedly, having never felt so grateful to someone in her life. She gestures for him to return to her cabin to warm up. The Youngest Warrior shook his head and held out his moccasin to her, saying something in his own language, but Kirsten only understood 'Esiban'. He motioned for Kirsten to put her hand into the moccasin and Kirsten puts it in, feeling that they still held warmth, and knowing he was telling her he didn't need help to warm himself again.

The young warrior put on his dry clothes and joined the others. Five Swans raised his hand to Kirsten, ten motioned for the men to move on. The Youngest Warrior glanced back once before they rounded the bend in the stream and vanished. Kirsten rubbed Caro with her shawl, whispering 'Esiban' and this time smiling at the name.

Kirsten tried to think of a new name to give the young warrior with the hawk-like face. She saw him three ways at the same time: he gobbled pie like any hungry boy. He was a fierce warrior who won horses in a raid. He was someone who stepped without hesitation into icy water to save her dog from drowning. He was complicated. Kirsten decided she would call him Three Hawks on One Branch and if he came back, she'd find a way to tell him.

Meet The Author

Janet Shaw recalls her taking care of her dog when his leg broke, and how taking care of him made her feel better.

Looking Back: Ojibway in 1854

Discusses the Ojibway people in pioneer America. Topics covered:

Before the story starts, a note at the beginning explains that the name "Chippewa" is a white mispronunciation of "Ojibway."

Activity: Make Bird's Nest Pudding

Learn how to make bird's nest pudding.


  1. The family is still awaiting the return of Olav and Anders from the logging camp.
  2. The family is still living together in one home after the fire destroyed the Larsons' cabin, setting the story prior to when the Larsons move into what had been the Stewart home.