Myths and Legends of the Mississippi Valley and the Great Lakes

Page: 53

[152] a slender fish he carried in his bill. Therefore the Little People said he would make good use of a spear, so they gave him his long bill.




ONE day an Indian became so angry with everyone that he set the sea marshes on fire because he wanted to burn up the world.

A little blackbird saw it. He flew up into a tree and shouted, “Ku nam wi cu! Ku nam wi cu! The world and all is going to burn.”

The man said, “If you do not go away, I will kill you.” But the bird only kept shouting, “Ku nam wi cu! The world and all is going to burn.”

Then the Indian threw a shell and hit the little bird on the wings, making them bleed. That is how the red-winged blackbird came by its red wings.

Now when people saw the marshes burning, they quickly ran down and killed game which had been driven from it by the fire. Then they said to the angry man,

“Because you put fire in those tall weeds, the deer and bear and other animals have been driven out and [154] we have killed them. You have aided us by burning them.”

Nowadays when the red-winged blackbird comes around the house, he still shouts, Ku nam wi cu, so they say.




ONCE the Animals challenged the Birds to a great ball play, and the Birds accepted. The Animals met near the river, in a smooth grassy field. The Birds met in the tree top over by the ridge.

Now the leader of the Animals was Bear. He was very strong and heavy. All the way to the river he tossed up big logs to show his strength and boasted of how he would win against the Birds. Terrapin was with the Animals. He was not the little terrapin we have now, but the first Terrapin. His shell was so hard the heaviest blows could not hurt him, and he was very large. On the way to the river he rose on his hind feet and dropped heavily again. He did this many times, bragging that thus he would crush any bird that tried to take the ball from him. Then there was Deer, who could outrun all the others. And there were many other animals.

Now the leader of the Birds was Eagle; and also Hawk, and the great Tlanuwa. They were all swift and strong of flight.

[156] Now first they had a ball dance. Then after the dance, as the birds sat in the trees, two tiny little animals no larger than field mice climbed up the tree where Eagle sat. They crept out to the branch tips to Eagle.

They said, “We wish to play ball.”

Eagle looked at them. They were four-footed. He said, “Why don’t you join the Animals? You belong there.”

“The Animals make fun of us,” they said. “They drive us away because we are small.”

Eagle pitied them. He said, “But you have no wings.”

Then at once Eagle and Hawk and all the Birds held a council in the trees. At last they said to the little fellows, “We will make wings for you.”

But they could not think just how to do it. Then a Bird said, “The head of our drum is made of groundhog skin. Let us make wings from that.” So they took two pieces of leather from the drum and shaped them for wings. They stretched them with cane splints and fastened them on the forelegs of one of the little animals. So they made Tlameha, the Bat. They began to teach him.

First they threw the ball to him. Bat dropped and circled about in the air on his new wings. He did not [157] let the ball drop. The Birds saw at once he would be one of their best men.

Now they wished to give wings also to the second little animal, but there was no more leather. And there was no more time. Then somebody said they might make wings for the other man by stretching his skin. Therefore two large birds took hold from opposite sides with their strong bills. Thus they stretched his skin. Thus they made Tewa, the Flying Squirrel.

Then Eagle threw to him the ball. At once Flying Squirrel sprang after it, caught it in his teeth, and carried it through the air to another tree nearby.

Then the game began. Almost at the first toss, Flying Squirrel caught the ball and carried it up a tree. Then he threw it to the Birds, who kept it in the air for some time. When it dropped to the earth, Bear rushed to get it, but Martin darted after it and threw it to Bat, who was flying near the ground. Bat doubled and dodged with the ball, and kept it out of the way of Deer. At last Bat threw it between the posts. So the Birds won the game.

Bear and Terrapin, who had boasted of what they would do, never had a chance to touch the ball.

Because Martin saved the ball when it dropped to the ground, the Birds afterwards gave him a gourd in which to build his nest. He still has it.




ONCE upon a time, they say, the world turned over. Then the waters rose very high and many people died. A woman took two children and lodged in a tree. She sat there waiting for the waters to sink, for she had no way of reaching the ground.