One day Na’pe, the Old Man, was out on the prairie travelling from somewhere to somewhere else when he heard little voices singing. He followed the sound and found that it came from an elk’s skull, which was lying on the ground.
He looked inside and found a large nest of mice having a party. They were singing and dancing and having a very good time. Na’pe was envious, so he said, “Little Brothers! Little Brothers! Let me sing too!”
The mice said, “Well, Old Man, we don’t mind. Sit there and sing!” But no, Old Man didn’t want to do it that way. “I would not make a guest sit outside my dancing lodge!” he said.
“Oh, very well,” said the mice. “You may put your head in and sing with us that way, but you must not go to sleep. If you go to sleep, you will not be able to take your head out again. You’ll be sorry!” said the mice.
“Oh, yes, yes,” said Na’pe impatiently, and he put his head into the elk skull and began to sing with the mice.
The dancing continued till far into the night, with Na’pe keeping time to the singing with his head, shaking it back and forth. He began to get sleepy and he forgot all that the mice had told him about not going to sleep. Na’pe slept.
The mice laughed and laughed. Then they gnawed all his hair off and ran away.
When Na’pe awoke, he found that the little animals had told the truth. He was quite unable to get his head out of the elk skull. He wandered off over the prairie searching for someone to help him out of the skull. Since his eyes were covered by the skull, he could not see where he was going and he was forced to rely upon asking his way from the rocks and the trees, because all things talk to Old Man. He said to a rock, “Where do you sit?” The rock said, “I sit on the side of a hill, Na’pe. Walk above me, for below me is the river.”
Na’pe went along his way. He bumped into a tree. “Where do you sit?” he said to the tree. “Are you near the river?”
“I am very near the river, Na’pe,” said the tree. “Walk away from me, lest you should fall into the water.”
Late in the day he said to another tree, “Where do you sit? Are you near the river or far away?”
This tree was a liar. It said, “I am far from the river, Na’pe. Walk this way, Old Man.”
So Na’pe walked past the tree and fell into the river. The current was strong, and the water deep. Na’pe found himself whirled out into midstream and carried along very rapidly down the river.
A little way downstream there was an Indian camp. The women were down by the river getting water when they saw Na’pe in the elk horns coming down the river. They ran to the camp shouting, “An elk is floating down the river! An elk! An elk!”
The men seized their bows and arrows and ran to the river bank. They were ready to shoot at him when Na’pe cried for help. They knew his voice, and said, “Why it is our old brother, Na’pe!”
They waded out and brought him in to the shore. Then they took rocks and broke open the elk skull, freeing Old Man. But no sooner had his head appeared than the women began to scream.
“Oh, look, look,” they said, “He has no hair. It is not Old Man. It is a water person! Run! Run!” And they all ran away as fast as they could, leaving Na’pe alone. He went to another camp, but they too thought he was a water person and ran away.
So he had to go and camp by himself for a long time, till his hair grew out again. “Oh, well,” said Na’pe, “I sang very well with those mice. I did, indeed.”