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It's March, and Kirsten is at the stream not far from her cabin home; the ice on the water has started to melt. She notices a tiny bundle wrapped in birch bark at her feet. She drops her water bucket, kneels down and opens up the package to find a leather bag decorated with quills like the one her friend Singing Bird wears; she realizes with excitement that Singing Bird is back again. Singing Bird and her have been secret friends since the Larsons first arrived in America and they played often and exchanged gifts at the stream. But settlers were wary of the Natives and felt they would become upset as the land that were their hunting grounds became more and more farmland. Kirsten felt her parents would feel the same way so she had kept the friendship a secret; when Singing Bird's tribe had moved on to find better hunting Kirsten though they wouldn't see each other again.
Singing Bird steps out from the bushes and Kirsten runs up to her; Singing Bird brushes her hair in greeting. Kirsten says how she missed her, squeezing her hand and thanking her for the bag. Singing Bird squeezes back and tucks the bag into Kirsten’s apron waistband, then pats her own bag and states they are sisters.
Kirsten notices Singing Bird looks thinner than she had before and asks if her tribe managed to find good hunting and has enough to eat. Singing Bird explains her tribe found nothing, so they decided to retry their own hunting grounds. She ask Kirsten to come visit at her home, but Kirsten explains that she came out to get water for Mama’s laundry so she has to go back and they should meet later. Singing Bird draws an image to explain to meet her when the sun reached the branches; Kirsten agrees, and Singing Bird runs back into the forest.
Kirsten turns to pick up her dropped bucket and sees her little brother Peter standing at the bend of the trail. Wide eyed, Peter asked what Kirsten was doing with an Indian. Kirsten flushes with guilt and wishes that Peter hadn't seen her, because he might tattle to their parents, then accuses Peter of sneaking up on her. Peter says that Mama sent him to tell her to hurry up, before excitedly asking who the girl Kirsten was with and what she gave her. Kirsten hides her bag, but realizes Peter's seen too much for her to lie. She put her hands on his shoulders and asks him if he can keep a secret. Peter nods as he loves secrets.
Kirsten explains how the Indian girl was her friend and Peter brings up how Papa said they couldn’t trust Indians. Kirsten insists that Singing Bird wasn’t dangerous, that she was kind and good, and Peter adds that she gave her something. Kirsten explains how they gave each other gifts plenty of times before clamping up, feeling she said too much. Peter grins at the idea of presents and asks Kirsten to take him to see the Indians. Considering how her parents would react, Kirsten tells him no.
She says Peter was too young to see Indians, causing Peter to argue with her all the way back to the cabin. Mama, coming out from the barn, tells the two to stop fighting and explain what was making them so mad. Kirsten says they weren’t fighting, but Peter blurts that Kirsten wouldn’t let him see her Indian friend, even though she was nice enough to give Kirsten a gift. Peter’s face turned a dark red when he realized he gave away the secret. Mama set down the bucket she was holding and asks Kirsten in a serious voice if it was true she had an Indian friend. Kirsten murmurs that it was a girl just like herself and Mama asks to see the gift. Knowing she couldn’t refuse, Kirsten handed her bag over. Mama looked at it curiously at first, then worriedly, and tucked it away into her apron.
Mama explains to Kirsten that danger was all around them and no one would protect them except for themselves. Papa was unsure what to expect from the Indians and Mama didn’t want to take any risks, even if her friend was young. Holding back tears, Kirsten tries to explain that Singing Bird had just returned, but Mama tells her she must never play with that Indian girl ever again.
Mama went back into the house and Kirsten turned to Peter, who looked like he wanted to disappear. Through her tears, Kirsten yells at Peter for breaking his promise and how it was all his fault she couldn’t see her friend gain. Peter, crying himself, tells Kirsten he didn’t mean to. He blames Kirsten for keeping such a big secret to begin with, and declares that he can find the Indians all by himself. Peter ran back to the stream, hurt and angry, and Kirsten wiped her face. She felt bad for spilling her bad feelings all over Peter, but she was angry at him for telling.
Kirsten went inside for breakfast, but Peter didn’t return. At noon, Papa and Lars went to the forest to look for him and Mama paced back and forth anxiously. She worried with the spring season, bears looking for food after hibernation might attack him, Peter might try walking on the thin melting ice on the river and drown, or Indians might capture him like she heard in stories. Kirsten thinks to herself that Indians were too smart to want Peter, but Mama’s fears troubled Kirsten. The secret was too big for a kid peter’s age, and Kirsten felt if she was more open about her friendship with Singing Bird, her parents would realize she could be trusted. Worst of all, Kirsten felt guilty that it was her anger that made Peter run away and if he got lost or hurt, it would be all her fault. She wished she could help Papa and Lars with the search, but Mama sighs that they must keep working and asks her to get more water for the wash.
Kirsten was surprised to see Singing Bird waiting by the stream before remembering their earlier agreement. Kirsten was happy to see her: Singing Bird knew the forest well and could help find Peter. Kirsten grips her friend’s hands, telling her Peter was lost in the woods. Singing Bird cocked her head in confusion, and Kirsten points to the footprints, explaining that Peter ran off and she needed to follow him. Singing Bird looked at Peter’s footprints and notes he was running. Kirsten asks if she could follow his tracks and Singing bird says she can, inviting Kirsten to follow her.
The two start to follow the tracks, Kirsten impressed by her friend’s skill and thinking how she read the tracks like Kirsten trying to understand the English in her book, As they follow the trail, they see how Papa’s footprints went in a completely direction from where Peter ran off to. Through the tracks, they see how Peter went deeper into the woods, struggled through the thicket, and turned back when the berry bramble stopped him. Kirsten gasps at the sight of a bear paw print near Peter’s footprints and asks if a bear was after Peter. Singing Bird assures her that hungry bears only looked for food, not boys, but Kirsten is still concerned another animal like a wolf might chase after him.
They continue to follow the prints, and see at one point Peter started to wander around in circles and Kirsten gets increasingly worried about what could have happened to Peter in his panicked state. Singing Bird eventually points Kirsten to what looked like a fallen log at first. As they got closer though, Kirsten saw Peter was asleep inside of it. Singing Bird gently shakes him, and Peter wakes up alarmed at the sight of an Indian. Kirsten assures him he wasn’t lost anymore. Peter asks if she was sure, still looking at Singing Bird. Kirsten assures him again, explaining how Singing Bird found him and would help them get back home.
When they reached the edge of the woods near the cabin, Kirsten urged Peter to go ahead and show Mama he was safe. Peter ran ahead, and Singing Bird started to draw back, saying she had to go. Kirsten asks Singing Bird to come to the cabin and meet her mother. If Mama knew Singing Bird helped find Peter, the hurt caused by her secret would be healed. Singing Bird still hung back and shook her head, looking frightened. Recalling how strange the Indian village looked to Kirsten when Singing Bird first took her there, Kirsten wondered if Singing Bird’s parents had warned her not to go near settler’s cabins and thus never met a settler woman. Kirsten tells her it would be all right, firmly hoping so herself, as she held her friend’s hand and led her to the cabin.
Inside, Mama was hugging and scolding Peter and when she saw Singing Bird, she held him closer. Mama asks if this was the Indian girl she told Kirsten not to play with. Kirsten introduced Singing Bird and explains that she saved Peter. Looking doubtful, Mama asked Peter for confirmation and Peter says yes, commenting how he went looking for Indians but one found him. Mama’s face softened and she thanked Singing Bird. Peter asks if she could have honey and bread and Mama says yes, inviting Singing Bird to join them. Mama returns Kirsten’s leather bag to her. Kirsten asks her friend if she wanted to join them and Singing Bird nodded shyly.
Meet The Author
Janet Shaw talks about her and her brother exploring the woods by their house, including a place they called Sand Island.
Looking Back: The Sioux in 1854
Discusses the Dakota Sioux in pioneer America. Topics covered:
- The two major groups in the Minnesota area, the Dakota Sioux and the Ojibwa
- How the migration of many settlers led to the Natives ceded land
- How white settlers overran Native hunting grounds with farms and huntings, leading to migrations
- Lifestyles of the Sioux around the year including hunting, sugar making, planting, and meat preservation
- The fears of white settlers regarding Native Americans
- Trading and sharing between white settlers and Native Americans
- How Sioux used parts of animals they hunted, such as buffalo
- The activities of Native American women and girls
- How quillwork was done
- The current life of modern Sioux
Activity: Make a Charm Bag
Instructions on how to make a charm bag from chamois.
Items Associated to Kirsten on the Trail
- In American Girl Magazine, Kirsten is illustrated in a unique dress, shawl, ribbons, and apron. This was changed in the illustrations when the story was republished as a short story volume and tied to Kirsten's Checked Dress and Apron.