You Knew What I Was When You Picked Me Up

“You Knew What I Was When You Picked Me Up”
By: Iron Eyes Cody,
Reprinted from Guidepost, November 1989

On film in Hollywood I have played many American Indian roles…. the warrior, the medicine man, the chief wearing his double-tailed eagle headdress and smoking the peace pipe. And in a TV spot for the “Keep America Beautiful” Campaign, I was an Indian drifting alone in a canoe. As I saw how our waters were being polluted, a single tear ran down my cheek, telling the whole story. All three versions of my public service “tear” commercial are still playing after 17 years.

But now I have another story to tell, an old legend, with a warning as potent as that tear.

Many years ago, Indian youths would go away in solitude to prepare for manhood. One such youth hiked into a beautiful valley, green with trees, bright with flowers. There he fasted. But on the third day as he looked up at the surrounding mountains, he noticed one tall rugged peak, capped with dazzling snow.

I will test myself against that mountain, he thought. He put on his buffalo shirt, threw his blanket over his shoulders, and set off to climb the peak. When he reached the top he stood on the rim of the world. He could see forever, and his heart swelled with pride. Then he heard a rustle at his feet, and looking down, he saw a snake. Before he could move, the snake spoke. “I am about to die,” said the snake. “It is too cold for me up here and I am freezing. There is no food and I am starving. Put me under your shirt and take me down to the valley.”

“No,” said the youth. “I am forewarned. I know your kind. You are a rattlesnake. If I pick you up you will bite, and your bite will kill me.” “Not so,” said the snake. “I will treat you differently. If you do this for me you will be special. I will not harm you.”

The youth resisted for a while, but this was a very persuasive snake with beautiful markings. At last the youth tucked it into his shirt and carried it down to the valley. There he laid it gently on the grass, where suddenly the snake coiled, rattled and leapt, biting him on the leg.

“But you promised

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