Once upon a time, on the shores of Lake Superior, “lived an old man who was a widower. He had three daughters. The eldest was jealous, cruel and ugly; the second was vain; but the youngest of all was very gentle and lovely.” Unfortunately for this little girl, her sisters abused her when their father was away during the day. In fact, her older sisters, “used to beat the youngest girl, and burn her face with hot coals; yes, and even scar her pretty body. So the people called her “Little Burnt-Face”. The father asked the older girls why the little one was burned and always crying, and these wicked young ladies lied to him. They called her clumsy and disobedient, and claimed that she was always playing with the hot coals. He scolded the poor thing, doubly her misery. Now, at the far end of the village was the biggest wigwam. It was spacious and sat in the choicest spot. Here lived a great chief and his sister. The chief brought back game for his sisters, and skinned the deer hides and worked them until they were soft. She wore the finest moccasins and dresses cut from them. The chief also wore fine moccasins — and these were all that the villagers saw, for this chief was invisible. “Now, one Spring, his sister made known that her brother, the Great Chief, would marry any girl that could see him.” So all the girls from all the surrounding villages flocked in, all wearing their finest beads and gowns. Each took a turn walking along the shore of the lake with the chief’s sister. These foolish girls all said, when asked, that yes, they could certainly see the handsome chief. “ Then his sister asked, ‘Of what is his shoulder strap made?’ And the girls said, ‘Of a strip of rawhide.’ ‘And with what does he draw his sled?’ And they replied,’With a green withe.’ Then she knew that they had not seen him at all, and said quietly, ‘ Let us go to the wigwam.” There the sister asked the girl to help prepare the evening meal for her brother the chief. This the girls each did, and gaped as the food then disappeared! And, though many sat all night squinting, no girl ever saw the chief. Now it was the time for Little Burnt-Face’s sisters to walk along the shore. They put on “their finest blankest and brightest strings of beads, and plaited their hair beautifully, and slipped embroidered moccasins on their feet. ” They did nothing to help their little sister. As soon as those two mean girls were gone, Little Burnt-Face fixed herself up as best she could. But “she was a sorry sight. For her hair was singed off, and her little face was as full of burns and scars as a sieve is full of holes; and she shuffled along in her birch-bark clothes and big moccasins.” They belonged to her father, and she thought that wearing them would be better than going barefoot. As she made her way to the shore, all the girls and boys of the village turned out to mock her. How funny she looked, and what a fool she was to visit the chief’s sister. When Little Burnt-Face caught up with her two big sisters, they did not dare to laugh at her in the presence of the invisible chief. Since they could not be sure that the man was not near, they dared not say an unkind word to her. Now his sister took all three girls walking along the lake’s shore. “And the sky grew dark and they knew the Great Chief had come.” When his sister asked if anyone could see him, two voices answered ‘yes.’ But when asked to identify the material from which his shoulder-strap was made, the girls could only guess. Their answer, that it was made of raw-hide, drew another question. How does he draw his sled? The same way any man does, they said, with a green withe. So his sister knew that they were lying. She turned now to the youngest, who had been silent. Gently, she asked if the girl could see her brother. “I do! I do!’ said Little Burnt-Face with awe. ‘And he is wonderful!’ ‘And of what is his sled-string made?’ ‘ It is a beautiful Rainbow!’ ‘But my sister,’ said the other, ‘of what is his bow-string made?’ His bowstring, replied Little Burnt-Face, ‘ is the Milky Way!’ So the chief’s sister knew that the girl had seen her brother. She led her to “the wigwam, and bathed her with dew until the burns and scars all disappeared from her body and face. Her skin became soft and lovely again. Her hair grew long and dark like the Blackbird’s wing.” The chief’s sister took from among her treasured possessions a “wedding garment” and Little-Burnt Face shone with joy and beauty in it. “And then the Great Chief, no longer invisible, entered, terrible and beautiful.” And he spoke lovingly to Little Burnt-Face, and asked her to be his wife. The entire village came to celebrate the union, except for her sisters. Now everyone remembered how they had treated their little sisters, and so “they went back to their wigwam in disgrace, weeping with shame."
From Anthology of Children’s Literature, Compiled by Edna Johnson, Carrie E. Scott & Evelyn Sickels. Boston: Houghton Mifflin 1935/1948. Anthology of Children's Literature Third Revised Edition.
Notes: This story is taken from the Anthology named above, and is further identified as having been taken from The Red Indian Fairy Book, by Francis Jenkins Olcott.
Montessori Connection: History/USA/ American Indian Tribes/ Iroquois Nation
1. Read this story and notice what lake the village is near. (Lake Superior)
2. Look at a map of the USA and find Lake Superior.