Kirsten and the Chippewa


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. She tells Lisbeth and Anna to listen as well. Kirsten hopes 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 is practical and says it's only the February thaw, and they still had a long, cold winter ahead. Anna thinks it was colder in Minnesota than in Sweden or anywhere else in the world. After supper, the family returns to their chores, Anna moves the dishes from the table, Kirsten washes them, and Anna dries them and puts them away. Mama stores the leftovers, Aunt Inger is weaving, and Peter is playing with Britta. Mama takes out two dried apple pies and Peter requests a slice, but Mama smiles and tells him they had to cool first.

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The Chippewa look into the cabin.
Suddenly the windows beside the cabin door get dark, and Kirsten looks up to see lots of Indians standing by the window. Kirsten notices yellow and green paint stripes on their cheeks and foreheads, and she realizes that they came to the cabin without making a sound. Kirsten quickly gets to her feet and Caro, who had been by her side, puts his ears back and begins to bark wildly. When Peter sees the Native Americans, he jumps behind Aunt Inger's loom and asks why they were looking at the Larsons. Inger pats his shoulder and assures him that everything is fine. She says Indians stop trade with them occasionally. Britta had been left alone on the bed and she wails, so Mama picks her up. Mama is worried and says, "Indians painted like these are on a raid!" Peter walks to Mama and asks what a raid is. Inger explains that sometimes Indians raided each other's camp to steal horses and supplies, and sometimes men were killed. Peter presses up against Mama's knee and asks if they will raid the Larsons, but Inger assures him they were only after other Indians.

Inger stands up and beckons to the men. Inger explains these men are 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 the Larsons. Inger opens the door, and Kristen stands near to her cousins as six men from the raiding party enter. They smell like grease and smoke, they have feathers in their braids, and they have rifles and tomahawks. Kirsten has never seen Indians dressed as warriors before, and they weren't like her "gentle friend" Singing Bird. If they were after the Sioux, Kirsten is relieved Singing Bird's people had left for the winter.

Kirsten wishes 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 continues to bark and the youngest warrior, hardly older then a boy, scowled at the dog like a hawk eying its prey. Afraid he might hurt Caro, Kirsten grabs her dog by the collar and keeps him close. The boy glancesat her before looking away.

Aunt Inger nods to the oldest warrior, greeting him as Five Swans, and she asks what could they do for them today. Five Swans says they were in a hurry today, and he looks in the cheese box. Another man picks up a spoon, inspects it, pretendsto eat and laughs. The youngest warrior spots the pies and points 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 cuts the steaming pies into sections and offers to get plates, but each warrior grabs a slice with their bare hands and eats quickly. Ana whispers to Kirsten, surprised the pies weren't too hot to pick up. Inger glances at the girls, and she reminds them it wasn't polite to gawk and they still had work to finish. Anna steps among the warriors to pick up the empty pie tins and adds them to the wash bucket.

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The Youngest Warrior teases Kirsten.
Kirsten ties Caro to the bed and begins 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 about why he was watching her, and she nervously scrubs the tin over and over. The young warrior says something to the other men and they all begin to laugh. Kirsten looks up and sees the boy 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 its food.

Anna, Lisbeth, and Peter giggle, Inger smiles and even Mama's lips turn up, but Kirsten felt herself blush. Kristen's fear changes to anger, and she feels he has no right to make to make fun of her. Kirsten turns to the fire to hide her angry blush, but when the boy repeats esiban, Kirsten whirls around and calls him an ugly muskrat to his face.

Kirsten immediately regrets it and covers her mouth, and Mama looks anxiously at the men as she tells 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 girl who talks too much. He slaps the youngest warrior on the back and explains that she called him a maanaadiz waajashk, which makes the warriors laugh even harder, including the boy. The boy's eyes narrow, however, and Kirsten isn't sure if he is glaring at her. She regrets calling him that name.

The men are still chuckling as they leave, and Caro continues to bark from where he was tied. Kirsten watches the men disappear into the woods and she asks Inger if they will come again after the raid. Aunt Inger says they never know when they'll see them again, and she starts to warn Kirsten about calling the Chippewa names. Kirsten finishes her sentence, promising not to call them names again.

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

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

Anna snuggles against Kirsten and squeezes her hand. Kirsten squeezes back. She couldn't stay cross at Anna, but she also couldn't fall asleep. After Mama blows out the candles, the howls seem to come closer and louder, and their house seems so much smaller and vulnerable. When she falls asleep, her dreams have fires and cries.

The next morning, the icicles are still melting, and after breakfast Mama asks Kirsten to see if the ice on the river had melted. If so, maybe they won't have to melt snow for water that day. Kirsten goes out with Caro, and both enjoy the mild weather. Caro chases a crow and runs back to Kirsten, wagging his tail. At the stream, Kirsten looks for a place to dip her bucket, but the ice along the shore hadn't melted at all. The ice farther out had melted in patches, but the current was swifter there, and Kirsten knows not to walk on thawing ice to open water.

As Kirsten examines the stream, a rabbit jumps from the bushes and Caro chasesafter it. The rabbit ran toward the middle of the stream, makes a swift turn back, and dashs ashore. Caro tries to follow, but the rabbit turned too quickly for him and he tumbles on his side. Kristen laughs seeing him slip on the ice, then gasps as he skids towards the open water. Caro slides off the ice, falls into the water, and falls under. Kirsten calls out for him, and she can barely see his head pop out a little way downstream. Caro is able to get his forefeet onto the ice, but it's clear he won't be able to drag himself out of the icy water. If she couldn't pull him out quickly, Caro would go numb in the water and drown.

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thumbCaro falls into the stream.
Caro whines, and Kirsten calls that she is coming. Without thinking, she steps on the ice, but it groans and cracks under her and she jumps back. If she falls in, she could drown, too. Kirsten brainstorms and wonders if she had time to run back and get a board, but Caro is already losing strength and whimpering. Kirsten calls out for Caro to have heart, and she begins to cry.

Suddenly, Kristen sees figures coming out of the woods. The Chippewa warriors are returning on the path along the stream, some running, some riding horses. As they come closer, Kirsten sees 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 wipes away her tears as the warriors surround her and see Caro in the water.

The Youngest Warrior says something to the others, and Kirsten wonders if he was making another joke about her dog getting into trouble. No one laughs, and instead the Youngest Warrior pulls off his moccasins and leggings and steps barefoot onto the ice. Kirsten cries aloud as the ice breaks under his weight, and he sinks to his knees in the water. Kirsten thinks he'll turn back, but instead, he uses his tomahawk to chop a path through the ice and keeps wading up to his waist. He grabs Caro by the scruff, picks him up, and returns to shore.

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The Youngest Warrior shows Kirsten his moccasin.
He sets Caro by Kirsten, and she wraps her shawl around him as he trembles. She thanks the boy repeatedly and has never felt so grateful to anyone before. She gestures for him to return to her cabin to warm up. The Youngest Warrior shakes his head and holds out his moccasin to her, saying something in his own language, but Kirsten only understood esiban. He smiles and motions for Kirsten to put her hand into the moccasin, and Kirsten does so. They're warm, so she knows he's telling her he didn't need help to warm himself again.

The young warrior puts on his dry clothes and joined the others. Five Swans raises his hand to Kirsten, then motiones for the men to move on. The Youngest Warrior glances back once before they rounded the bend in the stream and disappeared. Kirsten rubbs Caro with her shawl, whispering esiban but now smiling at the name.

Kirsten tries 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 gobbles pie like any boy, he is a fierce warrior who won horses in a raid, and he is someone who stepped without hesitation into icy water to save her dog from drowning. He is complicated. Kirsten decides she will call him Three-Hawks-on-One-Branch and if he comes back, she'll 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.

Magazine and Short Story Differences

  • The magazine illustrustrations were done by Susan McAliley and later redrawn by Renée Graef.
  • In the magazine version, Five Swans' name is Cut Cheek; it seems to come from the scar on his nose. This is a name used again for a minor character in Kaya's series whom her older sister marries.
  • In the magazine version, the Chippewa trade four partridges for the pies, not prairie chickens.
  • In the magazine version, esiban is spelled aesban.
  • In the magazine version, maanaadiz waajashk is spelled nin manadis wa-zhushk.
  • In the magazine version, the Chippewa return with spotted ponies that Kirsten thinks they must have stolen in their raid.
  • In the magazine version, the Youngest Warrior is referred to as the "young brave," and the warriors are referred to as "braves" several times.
  • In the magazine version, Shaw mentions that names have always been important to Native Americans and names have significance. The bio asks what would be a good Indian nickname for the reader or the reader's best friend. This was likely changed as it is offensive for people outside of Indigenous cultures to attempt to give themselves such names.

Magazine Illustrations


  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.
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