WHY THE WOODPECKER HAS RED HEAD FEATHERS
Adapted from H. R. Schoolcraft
WHEN his wounds had all been cured by his grandmother's skill in
medicine, Manabozho, as big and sturdy as ever, was ripe for new
adventures. He set his thoughts immediately upon a war excursion
against the Pearl Feather, a wicked old manito, living on the other
side of the great lake, who had killed his grandfather.
He began his preparations by making huge bows and arrows without
number, but he had no arrow heads. At last his grandmother, Noko, told
him that an old man who lived at some distance could furnish him with
some, and he sent her to get them. Though she returned with her
wrapper full, he told her that he had not enough and sent her again for
In the meanwhile he thought to himself, "I must find out the way of
making these heads."
Instead of directly asking how it was done, he preferred-just like
Manabozho-to deceive his grandmother, in order to learn what he wanted
by a trick. "Noko," said he, "while I take my drum and rattle, and
sing my war songs, do you go and try to get me some larger heads, for
these you have brought me are all of the same size. Go and see whether
the old man is not willing to make some a little larger."
He followed her at a distance as she went, having left his drum at the
lodge, with a great bird tied at the top, whose fluttering wings should
keep up the drumbeat, the same as if he were standing there beating the
drum himself. He saw the old workman busy, and learned how he prepared
the heads; he also beheld the old man's daughter, who was very
beautiful. Manabozho discovered for the first time that he had a heart
of his own, and the sigh he heaved passed through the arrow maker's
lodge like a young gale of wind.
"My how it blows!" said the old man.
"It must be from the south, though," said the daughter, "it is so
Manabozho slipped away, and in two strides he was at home, shouting
forth his songs as though he had never left the lodge. He had just
time to untie the bird which had been beating the drum when his
grandmother came in and gave him the big arrowheads.
In the evening the grandmother said, "My son, you ought to fast before
you go to war, as your brothers do, to find out whether you will be
successful or not."
He said he had no objection. Having privately stored away in a shady
place in the forest two or three dozen juicy bears, a moose, and twenty
strings of the tenderest birds, he would retire from the lodge so far
as to be entirely out of view of his grandmother and fall to and enjoy
himself heartily. At nightfall, having dispatched a dozen birds and
half a bear or so, he would return, tottering and forlorn, as if quite
famished, so as to make his grandmother feel sorry for him.
When he had finished his term of fasting, in the course of which he
slyly dispatched twenty fat bears, six dozen birds, and two fine moose,
Manabozho sung his war song and embarked in his canoe, fully prepared
Besides his weapons he took along a large supply of oil.
He traveled rapidly night and day, for he had only to will or speak,
and the canoe went. At length he arrived in sight of the fiery
serpents, and stopped to study them. He noticed that they were of
enormous length and of a bright color, that they were some distance
apart, and that the flames which poured forth from the mouths reached
across the pass, so he said good morning and began talking with them in
a very friendly way. They were not to be deceived, however.
"We know you, Manabozho," they said, "you cannot pass."
Turning his canoe as if about to go back, he suddenly cried out with a
loud and terrified voice: "WHAT IS THAT BEHIND YOU?"
The serpents thrown off their guard, instantly turned their heads, and
in a moment Manabozho glided silently past them.
"Well," said he, softly, after he had got by, "how about it?"
He then took up his bow and arrows, and with deliberate aim shot every
one of them easily, for the serpents were fixed to one spot and could
not even turn around.
Having thus escaped the sentinel serpents, Manabozho pushed on in his
canoe until he came to a part of the lake called Pitch-Water, as
whatever touched it was sure to stick fast.
But Manabozho was prepared with his oil and, rubbing his canoe freely
with it, from end to end, he slipped through with ease-and he was the
first person who had ever succeeded in passing through the Pitch-Water.
"Nothing like a little oil," said Manabozho to himself.
Having by this time come in view of land, he could see the lodge of the
Shining Manito, high upon a distant hill. At the dawn of day he put
his clubs and arrows in order and began his attack, yelling and
shouting and beating his drum, and calling out so as to make it appear
that he had many followers:
"Surround him! surround him! run up! run up!"
He stalked bravely forward, shouting aloud, "It was you that killed my
grandfather," and shot off a whole forest of arrows.
The Pearl Feather appeared on the height, blazing like the sun, and
paid back Manabozho with a tempest of bolts which rattled like hail.
All day long the fight was kept up, and Manabozho had fired all of his
arrows but three without effect, for the Shining Manito was clothed in
pure wampum. It was only by immense leaps to right and left that
Manabozho could save his head from the sturdy blows which fell about
him on every side, like pine.trees, from the hands of the Manito. He
was badly bruised, and at his very wits' end, when a large Woodpecker
flew past and lit on a tree. It was a bird he had known on the
prairie, near his grandmother's lodge.
"Manabozho," called out the Woodpecker, "your enemy has a weak point;
shoot at the lock of hair on the crown of his head."
The first arrow he shot only drew a few drops of blood. The Manito
made one or two unsteady steps, but recovered himself. He began to
parley, but Manabozho, now that he had discovered a way to reach him,
was in no humor to trifle, and he let slip another arrow which brought
the Shining Manito to his knees. Having the crown of his head within
good range Manabozho shot his third arrow, and the Manito fell forward
upon the ground, dead.
Manabozho called the Woodpecker to come and receive a reward for the
timely hint he had given him, and he rubbed the blood of the Shining
Manito on the Woodpecker's head, the feathers of which are red to this
Full of his victory, Manabozho returned home, beating his war drum
furiously and shouting aloud his song of triumph. His grandmother was
on the shore to welcome him with the war dance, which she performed
with wonderful skill for one so far advanced in years.