(a Lakota Sioux legend)
Once upon a time, during hunting season long ago, the men were out hunting, while back home a young mother sat in her teepee wrapping quills around a buckskin cushion. Beside her lay her black-eyed baby boy, and as he grew sleepy, she sang him a lullaby.
As the baby was sleeping, the woman remembered she needed willow sticks for the fire, and so she quietly went outside and into the woods. Before long she was returning with a bundle of long willows on her back. She laid them outside the teepee and slipped inside.
Suddenly, she was screaming, “My baby! My son is gone!”
She ran from teepee to teepee, calling out to everyone.
“What happened?” all the women asked, and the mother, weeping, told the story. They raced into the woods to search for the child and met the men returning from their hunt. They, too, began to look — combing the length of the lake, amid the tall reeds. They searched for hours, but they could not find the baby boy.
After many days, they gave up, but the mother could not stop wailing. It was late autumn, and the birds were flying south. The people moved their teepees away from the lake, but one teepee remained. This was the mother who stayed there as the snow fell and ice covered the lake. She stayed and wept. From far away, she heard the sound of the father’s sad song.
Ten summers and 10 winters passed, but every autumn the hunters came to search for the baby again. And then one year, just as the families were folding up their teepees to move away from the lake region, the mother walked along the shore, weeping and wailing.
As she walked, a beautiful boy with long hair hanging down his back and dressed only in a loincloth woven of grass, peered through the tall reeds, watching her. He bent down low and listened to the sound of her wails, and his eyes filled with tears.
After the woman’s voice had faded away, he quickly ran into the marsh, toward a hut made of reeds and grass.
“Mother?” he called. “Tell me about this voice that makes my eyes fill with water. Why do I love the sound of that voice?”
A big, scaly toad sat on a lily pad and looked at the boy.
“That is the voice of the weeping woman,” she said. “You must not like that voice. Listen to me. I will make your heart swell with love.”
With that, she leapt toward him, puffed out her chest and produced a loud, throaty, croaking sound. She was old now, and she had raised many toads, but she did not love anyone as much as she loved this boy. She croaked with all her strength to make him love her. She croaked out the names of all the valuable things she could think of.
Then she asked, “Son, did your eyes fill with water at the sound of my voice?”
The boy shook his head: “No, I wish to hear the other voice. Tell me why I love that voice so.”
The old toad looked down and knew that the boy had heard the voice of his true mother, and she feared she now was going to lose him, this boy who for so many winters had called her his mother.
“Why do my little brothers and sisters look so different from me?” the boy asked.
“The oldest child is always best,” the mother toad said, hoping to quell his longing. She watched him closely after that. Whenever he was about to go off on a walk, she sent another one of her toad children after him.
“Don’t come back without your big brother,” she always said.
After that, the boy sat among the tall reeds every day, waiting to hear the wailing voice once more. He was never alone; there was always one of his brothers or sisters sitting at his feet.
And then one day, a hunter wading in those waters saw the boy and he remembered the story of the lost child.
He turned and excitedly raced back home.
“I saw a black-haired boy playing in the reeds!” he told everyone.
The mother who had lost her child heard about the hunter’s news, and she quickly ran to him.
“Lead me there,” she said. The father came, too. And so the hunter led them to the lake.
They peered through the reeds at the boy sitting so innocently, waiting to hear his mother’s wail.
“That’s him!” the mother cried. “I know that is my son!”
When the mother wailed, her son’s eyes filled with tears, and they ran to each other and embraced, united at last.