Native American Ghost Stories: The Poor Man and the Ghosts

Published on December 18, 2012 by Casey

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The Poor Man
Native American Ghost Stories

Native American Ghost Stories: The Poor Man and the Ghosts

Once there was a poor orphan who was not well brought up. He was respected by no one and never got invited to feasts or ceremonies. Despite this, he managed to get married and went hunting by himself on foot or with his canoe. He usually had very little luck hunting, but once he killed a deer. He built a little shelter to stay overnight, started to cook the deer meat, and sat down to rest with his dog beside him. He smoked and dozed, and after a while he opened his eyes and saw a person standing there.

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He looked again and the person vanished. He thought it was strange that his dog had not seemed to notice that anyone was there. The man turned his meat on the fire and, looking up again, saw two men there. They seemed poor and unable to speak. The man greeted them and said, “My friends, you frightened me. I am poor. No one brought me up to know what to do under these circumstances. I would like to know who you are, but I do not know how to ask.” The two smiled and nodded to him in a friendly manner, so he went on: “Well, I shall feed you, and do what I can for your comfort.” They nodded again. “Are you ghosts?” the hunter asked. Again they smiled and bowed, so he began to broil meat on the coals, as one does for the souls of the dead.

The man was camped right in the middle of an ancient and forgotten cemetery and since the ghosts were there, he thought that might be the case. He offered prayers to the dead and prayed for the safety of his wife and child. He promised to make a feast for these people who were long dead and forgotten and promised to always mention the names of the two visitors, or at least to speak of them.

The next day he killed four bucks and luck went with him wherever he traveled. When he got home, he told his wife what had happened, and how he had been frightened when the two speechless men stood there. He told her to help him prepare a feast for them, although he did not know their names. He hoped that these ghosts would help them to become accepted by society. He invited one of the honorable men of the tribe, and told him of his strange adventure. He explained that he did not know how to go about giving a feast of the dead, and he turned it over to the elder man. The old man said that the poor man had done the right thing, and that the appearance of these ghosts was a good omen. So the feast was held.

A long time passed, and the poor man became a very great hunter, but he never forgot to sacrifice holy tobacco to the two spirits. After a long while, he became one of the leaders of the tribe, and remained faithful to the memory of the two ghosts he had met.

(Adapted from Alanson Skinner, “The Mascoutens or Prairie Potawatomi Indians, Part III, Mythology and Folklore,” Milwaukee Public Museum Bulletin 6[3]:327-411.)

Source: mpm Unabridged
Based on the collective work of, © 2015 Native American Encyclopedia.
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