Published on January 28, 2013 by Casey
Lenape legend about a giant bird that punished a warrior for his pride.
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Long ago the Delawares believed that if a brave could pluck a feather from the tail of a live eagle and wear that feather, he would not only always be brave and of great courage, but good fortune would always follow him. Therefore young hunters used to try to catch eagles by putting pieces of wolf meat on high cliffs, eagles being very fond of wolf meat.
At one time there was a young brave who was very reckless, ambitious and daring. He wanted to get eagle feathers for a head dress and desired to pluck the feathers himself from live eagles, so he found a high place where eagles often came and baited the place for a few days with wolf meat. Then he killed a large wolf, took it to this place and hung a large piece of the flesh near the edge of the cliff. He then hid behind a big tree, with a forked stick, ready to capture an eagle.
Presently an eagle came to get the tempting morsel, but the young brave considered this eagle too small and drove it away. Soon another came, but this one also did not seem to suit the brave. He drove away several others, not being satisfied with the plumage of any of them. All at once he heard the flapping of heavy wings and there alighted before him an eagle much larger than himself. This eagle instead of looking like the others had red feathers, as if dyed in blood. This eagle did not take the wolf meat, but came straight to the brave, seized him in his talons and carried him away to a high cliff, from which it was impossible to escape, except by jumping down, which would have been certain destruction.
On this cliff was a large nest containing four young eagles. The large eagle left the brave in the nest and said to him: “You shall stay here and care for my young until they are large enough to carry you back to where I got you. I am the head chief of the eagles. Your greed and ambition have brought you to this. You were not satisfied with the plumage of the birds I sent you. Now you shall stay here and suffer for your greed, and perhaps when you return you will be glad to take such feathers as we give you.” There was nothing else for the young brave to do but stay and guard the young eagles, and this he did so well as to win the friendship and love of the young eagles as well as the old eagle, who occasionally came to the nest, bringing in his talons a deer, rabbit or other game.
Finally, after the brave had been there many days and the young eagles had learned to fly, they would sometimes be away nearly all day and leave him alone. He would get very lonely and wonder if they were going to leave him to die of starvation or eat him up, or whether they really meant to take him back where the old eagle found him. He was not kept long in suspense, however, for one day the large eagle came again and said: “Now, my young friend, my grandchildren here shall carry you back to where I found you. I will go along to see that they do not drop you until you reach the place in safety.” Accordingly two of the young eagles seized the brave in their talons and flew toward the cliff where he had been tempting the eagles with wolf meat. It was not far from the nest and they soon reached the place in safety. There the brave found some eagle feathers which he was glad enough to take without plucking them from a live eagle, and he returned with them to his people.
The lesson he learned from his adventure is that opportunities will finally cease to come if you continue to brush them aside, hoping for a better one.
Taken from Adams, Richard C., Legends of the Delaware Indians and Picture Writing, Syracuse University Press, 1997
Original publication – 1905