Published on January 26, 2013 by Casey
Chippewa Indian legend about a boy punished by the birds for wasting their food.
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There once was a little boy called Redfeather who lived with his great-grandfather. His great-grandfather taught him to shoot with his bow and arrows. They lived in a village near a great big frog-meadow. The old grandfather told Redfeather stories about the different ways of creatures.
Springtime came, and in the evenings the old lady frogs would croak and sharpen their knives to butcher the crawfish. That is the noise they make. Every day Redfeather would take his bow and arrow and kill all the frogs he could get and the crawfish too. One day a heron came along and told Redfeather that she would give him her best feather if he would leave the frogs alone. She told him that she had a nest of babies to feed and that he was wasting her food by killing all the frogs and crayfish. Redfeather said, “Ha! I don’t want your old dirty feathers. You can keep your feathers and leave me alone. I can do what I want.”
So the birds met together to figure out what to do about Redfeather, who was making life difficult for so many of them. Near Redfeathers’s village there was an island with some large trees on it, and on this island lived a very old and very wise owl. Every evening Redfeather would go out and refuse to come in to bed, and run around and be noisy. The crane and the owl and other birds all complained about him because he scared away all the rabbits and small birds. They said he must be punished. The crane said that she was starving because he killed the frogs and the birds. No one could live in peace.
On evening, the owl perched himself on a tree close to Redfeather’s wigwam, and said, “Hoo Hoo!” Redfeather’s great-grandfather said to him, “Redfeather, come in, don’t you hear that owl calling?” But Redfeather said, “I’ll get the biggest arrow and shoot him.” Grandfather said, “The owl has large ears and he can put rabbits and other food in them. He might catch you too. You’d better come in and go to sleep.” But Redfeather disobeyed his Grandfather and went out and shot at the owl. He missed, and while he was out looking for the arrow, the owl swooped down and picked him up and stuck him in his ears, and flew off with him. The owl flew across the lake to his island, and up into an old oak tree where the nest of baby owls were.
He put Redfeather down there, and told his babies, “When you get big enough to eat meat, you shall eat Redfeather.” The little owls were quite excited at this. Then the owl flew away. The next day, the owl called to the crane and the other birds and said, “When your babies are old enough we’ll have a feast of Redfeather. I have him imprisoned in my oak tree.” So Redfeather was kept a prisoner, and he cried, but he couldn’t get down.
Back in the village, all the Indians knew Redfeather was lost. His great-grandfather asked all the living beings to help him find Redfeather and at last they found him a prisoner in the owl’s tree. The spirits told the great-grandfather to give a great feast and ask the owl to return Redfeather. His great-grandfather gave a huge feast, and Redfeather was returned to his great-grandfather. Redfeather also promised that he would never again misuse the food that Wenebojo had made for the birds.
(Adapted from Beatrice Blackwood, 1929, “Tales of the Chippewa Indians,” Folk-Lore 40:315-44.)