Published on May 25, 2013 by Casey
“The Native American Story of the Firebird
The Red Indian Fairy Book by Frances Jenkins Olcott
A Whullemooch Story”
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Very long ago the Indians of Puget Sound had no fire. They had heard of fire but they had never seen it. They ate all their food raw, and on cold days sat shivering and unhappy. And they had no pleasant lodge fire to gather around on wet nights.
It happened one day, while the people were sitting on the grass eating raw meat, that a beautiful bird suddenly flew above their heads. It had shining feathers, and bright eyes like jewels, and its long, waving tail gave out rays like the Sun. It hovered over the heads of the people, and flew in circles around and around.
“Pretty Bird, what do you want?” said the people.
“I come,” replied the bird, “from a beautiful country far away. I am the Firebird, and I bring you the blessing of heat. The rays you see shining about my tail are tongues of flame.”
“Oh, pretty Bird,” cried the people, “give us the fire, so that we may cook our food and warm ourselves!”
“If you wish the fire,” said the bird, “you must earn it. I cannot give it to any one who has done a bad deed or a mean action. To-day let each of you get ready some pitch pine. To-morrow I will return, and then you shall see who will get the fire.” So saying, the bird flew away.
The next day it returned. “Have you the pitch pine ready?” asked the bird.
“Yes! yes!” said all the people.
“Very well,” said the bird. “Here I go! Catch me if you can. Whoever puts some pitch pine on my tail shall get the fire to warm himself by, and cook his meals on, and to be a blessing to the Children of Puget Sound forever.”
Then away flew the bird close to the ground. And away went all the people running after it, braves and squaws, youths and maidens, boys and girls, and little children. Helter-skelter they ran laughing and shouting. Some tripped on stones, others caught in bushes and scratched themselves on thorns, and others fell into water-holes. By and by some of the people went back angrily to their lodges, but the rest kept up the chase.
But no one could catch the Firebird. When one man tried to grasp its tail, the bird cried out, “You are too selfish, you cannot have the fire.” And to another man it cried, “You are a thief,” and to still another, “You tell lies.”
At last the bird flew toward a lodge. In the door was a poor woman taking care of a sick old man.
“Pretty Bird! Pretty Bird!” called she. “I cannot follow you now. Will you not come here and give me your fire?”
“What good have you done?” asked the bird.
“I have done no good,” answered the woman sadly. “I have had no time for that. I must stay here and care for my sick father, and look after my little children.”
“Kind woman,” said the Firebird, “you do your duty, so you are doing good. Bring some wood and put it on my tail, and take the fire.”
The woman hastened joyfully to fetch some wood, and when she laid it on the Firebird’s tail, the flames blazed up. Then all the other women of the tribe brought wood and got fire from her, and ever after they were able to cook their meat and warm themselves.
As for the Firebird, it flew away and they never saw it again.
That is how the Indians of Puget Sound say they got fire.