Published on December 8, 2012 by Casey
The “partridges” referred to in Native American legends were probably actually grouses or quails. Partridge are not native to North America. Though some European animals such as horses did become important in Native American folklore, partridge were not introduced to North America until the early 1900′s, and Native American myths about “partridges” were recorded in the 1800′s, as well as translations for the word “partridge” being given in 17th-century dictionaries of Native American languages. Since several species of grouse and quail are native to North America, the most sensible explanation is that the Native Americans were actually referring to those, and the English and early American people who translated their words misidentified the birds as partridge.
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Regardless, none of these three birds are mentioned very often in Native American folklore or traditional stories, except as a food source. When they do appear, partridge are usually portrayed as foolish and gullible birds or as inept spouses and parents. An exception is the Mi’kmaq tragic hero Pulowech (translated as “Partridge” in English, though one of our Mi’kmaq volunteers identified him as a ruffed grouse), who behaves bravely and honorably. The Chippewa tribe also uses the grouse as one of its clan animals; this clan, too, is frequently called the Partridge Clan in older documents (although the Ojibwe name of the clan and its totem, Aagask, refers specifically to a prairie grouse.)