Among the Iroquois tribes of eastern North America a story is told about a time of internal enmity – and of stumbling into peace through the innocence of a little child. During this outbreak of bloodshed, one of the tribes laid plans to wreak vengeance on their rivals. To that end they sent out spies to learn the location and intentions of their adversaries. A medicine man found himself assigned to reconnoiter alone a tract of forest. He picked up signs of a trail that led to a clearing with a cluster of shelters. From cover of the woods he observed the coming and going, but as evening approached, he realized that any chance of learning valuable information would require being next to the main shelter where a clutch of enemy warriors had gathered to sit about a fire as they talked in the night.
The medicine man found a gap in the shelter walls that allowed him to peer inside and even to hear the ebb and flow of conversation. The warriors were discussing tactics with great bravado, what they would do to their foes in victory. Midst these boisterous voices, a toddler began amusing himself by a kettle of soup steeping at the fire. The child took a ladle as though to sip some of the soup. But having filled the ladle, the toddler, without attracting any notice from his elders, crossed the shelter to where the spy had pressed an eye to the peephole. The child raised the ladle to the gap, offering the medicine man a sip. He froze in fear, certain that he would now be discovered. But he silently accepted the child’s offer in hope there would be no stir. The child returned to the pot again and again, as though in play, thus feeding the sworn enemy of his people.
Tiring of this play, the toddler finally curled up in the arms of sleep, allowing the medicine man to creep away under the stars, to retrace his steps through the night. He now found himself in a strange dilemma. How could he return to divulge to his own warriors what he had seen and heard? The upshot would surely be the death of this child who had so playfully fed him even while others were plotting bloodshed? By the time he reached home fires, he realized the child had completely disarmed him. He could never countenance anything that would bring grief or harm to the child or his loved ones.
When the war council convened the next day, the medicine man lied shamelessly. He vowed he had seen nothing and that the tribe would have to look elsewhere if it were to pursue this conflict. Nor was this the end of his strange change of heart. It is said he went on to become a stout partisan of peace notably resisting all calls to arms or threats to others. Some say it was the day he came fully into his calling as medicine man.
He could still taste the warmth of soup from the ladle; could still see the gentle, unguarded face of the toddler.