Dead or Alive

Many years ago there lived a very famous Indian medicine man. He was famous because of his wisdom. For many years he had helped the members of his tribe by answering their questions and giving them wise advice. However, because he was so very old, many of the young braves of the tribe felt that he ought to give up his position as medicine man and allow a younger brave to have the honor.

Several times the young braves of the tribe had attempted to remove him by asking him questions and posing problems that they hoped he would not be able to answer. If only they could cause him to make a mistake or catch him with a question he could not answer, they were sure they could replace him with a younger man. Each time, however, that they made an attempt to do this, they had failed. His answers were always right and his advice always trustworthy.

One day, while a group of younger braves was on the hunt, one of the young men turned to the group and said: "Tonight I will ask the old medicine man a question that he will not be able to answer. Gather all our tribesmen before his teepee tonight, and you will see."

The other braves remembered their past failures and wanted to know what he planned to do. The younger brave replied: "I will catch a bird, take it to him holding it in my hands so that the feathers show through my fingers; and I will say to him, 'What do I have in my hands?' Seeing the feathers he will reply, 'A bird.' Then I will say, 'That is correct, but tell me Wise One, is it dead or is it alive?' If he says it is dead, I will smother it and drop it, dead at his feet. So you see regardless of his answer, he will be wrong and we will be able to replace him with a younger man."

This pleased the braves because they were certain it could not fail. When they returned from the hunt, they spread word around the tribe of the test which the medicine man would face. At sundown the space before the ancient Indian‘s teepee was crowded with Indians eager for the test.

The young man answered: "It is said that you can answer all questions correctly. If this be so, Father, tell what I have in my hand."
The old man looked and replied: "A bird, my son."

"That is correct," the young brave responded. "But tell me, is it dead or is it alive?"

This was the challenge! Every Indian present held his breath, for the medicine man‘s answer. The old man paused, then looking deep into the young man‘s eyes, he responded: "That, my son, depends on you."