Zitkala-Sa (a.k.a. Gertrude Simmons Bonnin),
Old Indian Legends
(University of Nebraska Press, 1985)

The first thing you notice about Old Indian Legends is the abundance of lavishly detailed illustrations by Angel De Cora. Almost every story has a full-page illustration.

The foreword introduces the reader to Zitkala-Sa and provides her biographical outline, then tells the basics about the four other leading Native American folklore writers that followed in her footsteps.

Old Indian Legendscontains 14 stories, with six featuring adventures of the spider-fairy, Iktomi. He is an arrogant trickster who looks and dresses like a brave. He is always trying to find an easy way to do things and would rather cheat somebody out of something than to earn it honestly. Sometimes, as in "Iktomi & the Ducks," he would be better off if he kept his mouth shut.

Fortunately, Iktomi's tricks usually backfire in ways that leave the reader laughing. Occasionally though, he messes up somebody else's plans, as in "The Warlike Seven."

"Dance in a Buffalo Skull" is my favorite of these stories because it is so perfect for scaring people, especially when they are gathered around a campfire. Try this story on a group of Scouts or other kids and enjoy their screams.

I also really enjoy "The Warlike Seven." It is another fun one for reading or retelling to groups. It tells how seven unlikely warriors set out to make war on a village, but none can fight. By a freaky turn of events, two return as heroes.

we learn about Iya the Glutton. He is a hideous giant with tiny, wobbly legs who eats entire villages and drinks lakes dry.

All of the stories contained in Old Indian Legends are thoroughly enjoyable. The writing is lively and fast paced, always pressing toward the climax. It is a superb collection by the Native American author who pioneered the field for natives to record their folklore and culture for future generations.

Zitkala-Sa was a Nakota Sioux woman raised on the Yankton Reservation, but educated back East. Until she died in 1938, she was considered to be a translator between the two cultures. She used her education and flair for writing to record the folklore of her people. She is the author of American Indian Stories.

book review by
Alicia Karen Elkins

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