Robin Redbreast, An American Indian Story
There was once a hunter who had only one son,
and when his son grew up he said to him: “My
son, I am growing old, and you must hunt for
“Very well, father,” said his son, and he took
his father’s bow and arrows and went out into the
woods. But he was a dreamy boy, and forgot
what he had come for, and spent the morning
wondering at the beautiful flowers, and trees, and
mosses, and hills, and valleys that he saw. When
he saw a bird on a tree, he forgot that he had
come to shoot it, and lay listening to its song; and
when he saw a deer come down to drink at the
stream he put down his bow and arrows and began
to talk to the deer in the deer’s own language.
At last he saw that the sun was setting.
Then he looked round for his bow and arrows,
and they were gone!
When he got home to the wigwam, his father
met him at the door and said: “My son, you have
had a long day’s hunting. Have you killed so
much that you had to leave it in the woods? Let
us go and fetch it together.”
The young man looked very much ashamed of
himself, and said: “Father, I forgot all about the
hunting. The woods, and the sky, and the flowers,
and the birds, and the beasts were so interesting
that I forgot all about what you had sent
me to do.”
His father was in a terrible rage with him, and
in the morning he sent him out again, with new
bow and arrows, saying: “Take care that you
don’t forget this time.”
The son went along saying to himself: “I
mustn’t forget, I mustn’t forget, I mustn’t forget.”
But as soon as a bird flew across the path
he forgot all about what his father had said, and
called to the bird in the bird’s own language, and
the bird came and sat on the tree above him, and
sang to him so beautifully all day that the young
man sat as if he was dreaming till sunset.
“Oh dear!” said the young man, “what shall I
do? My father will kill me if I go back without
anything to eat.”
“Never mind,” said the bird; “if he kills you,
we shall give you feathers and paint, and you can
fly away and be a bird like ourselves.”
When the young man reached the village he
scarcely dared to go near his father’s wigwam;
but his father saw him coming, and ran to meet
him, calling out in a hurry; “What have you
brought? What have you brought?”
“I have brought nothing, father; nothing at
all,” said the boy.
His father was angrier than ever, and in the
morning he said: “Come with me. No more bow
and arrows for you, and not a bite to eat, till I
have taught you to be a hunter like any other
good Indian.” So he took his son into the middle
of the forest, and there built for him a little wigwam,
with no door, only a little hole in the side.
“There!” said his father, when the young man
was inside, and the wigwam was laced up tight.
“When you have lived and fasted in this wigwam
for twelve days, the spirit of a hunter will come
Every day the young man’s father came to see
him, and every day the young man begged for
food, till at last, on the tenth day, he could only
beg in a whisper.
“No!” said his father. “In two days more you
can both hunt and eat.”
On the eleventh day, when the father came and
spoke to his son, he got no answer. Looking
through the hole, he saw the lad lying as if he
was dead on the ground; but when he called out
aloud his son awoke, and whispered: “Father,
bring me food! Give me some food!”
“No,” said his father. “You have only one day
more to wait. To-morrow you will hunt and eat.”
And he went away home to the village.
On the twelfth day the father came loaded
with meal and meat. As he came near to the
wigwam he heard a curious chirping sound, and
when he looked through the hole in the wigwam
he saw his son standing up inside, and painting
his breast with bright red paint.
“What are you doing, my son? Come and eat!
Here is meal and meat for you. Come and eat
and hunt like a good Indian.”
But the son could only reply in a chirping little
voice: “It is too late, father. You have killed me
at last, and now I am becoming a bird.” And as
he spoke he turned into the o-pe-che—the robin
redbreast—and flew out of the hole and away to
join the other birds; but he never flew very far
from where men live.
The cruel father set out to go back to his wigwam;
but he could never find the village again,
and after he had wandered about a long time he
lay down in the forest and died; and soon afterward
the redbreast found him, and buried him
under a heap of dry leaves. Every year after that,
when the time of the hunter’s fast came round,
the redbreast perched on his father’s empty wigwam
and sang the song of the dead.