SHOOTING OF THE RED EAGLE
AN OLD INDIAN LEGEND
A MAN in buckskins sat upon the top of a little hillock. The setting sun
shone bright upon a strong bow in his hand. His face was turned toward the
round camp ground at the foot of the hill. He had walked a long journey
hither. He was waiting for the chieftain's men to spy him.
Soon four strong men ran forth from the center wigwam toward the hillock,
where sat the man with the long bow.
"He is the avenger come to shoot the red eagle," cried the runners to each
other as they bent forward swinging their elbows together.
They reached the side of the stranger, but he did not heed them. Proud and
silent he gazed upon the cone-shaped wigwams beneath him. Spreading a
handsomely decorated buffalo robe before the man, two of the warriors
lifted him by each shoulder and placed him gently on it. Then the four men
took, each, a corner of the blanket and carried the stranger, with long
proud steps, toward the chieftain's teepee.
Ready to greet the stranger, the tall chieftain stood at the entrance way.
"How, you are the avenger with the magic arrow!" said he, extending to him
a smooth soft hand.
"How, great chieftain!" replied the man, holding long the chieftain's
hand. Entering the teepee, the chieftain motioned the young man to the
right side of the doorway, while he sat down opposite him with a center
fire burning between them. Wordless, like a bashful Indian maid, the
avenger ate in silence the food set before him on the ground in front of
his crossed shins. When he had finished his meal he handed the empty bowl
to the chieftain's wife, saying, "Mother-in-law, here is your dish!"
"Han, my son!" answered the woman, taking the bowl.
With the magic arrow in his quiver the stranger felt not in the least too
presuming in addressing the woman as his mother-in-law.
Complaining of fatigue, he covered his face with his blanket and soon
within the chieftain's teepee he lay fast asleep.
"The young man is not handsome after all!" whispered the woman in her
"Ah, but after he has killed the red eagle he will seem handsome enough!"
answered the chieftain.
That night the star men in their burial procession in the sky reached the
low northern horizon, before the center fires within the teepees had
flickered out. The ringing laughter which had floated up through the smoke
lapels was now hushed, and only the distant howling of wolves broke the
quiet of the village. But the lull between midnight and dawn was short
indeed. Very early the oval-shaped door-flaps were thrust aside and many
brown faces peered out of the wigwams toward the top of the highest bluff.
Now the sun rose up out of the east. The red painted avenger stood ready
within the camp ground for the flying of the red eagle. He appeared, that
terrible bird! He hovered over the round village as if he could pounce
down upon it and devour the whole tribe.
When the first arrow shot up into the sky the anxious watchers thrust a
hand quickly over their half-uttered "hinnu!" The second and the third
arrows flew upward but missed by a wide space the red eagle soaring with
lazy indifference over the little man with the long bow. All his arrows he
spent in vain. "Ah! my blanket brushed my elbow and shifted the course of
my arrow!" said the stranger as the people gathered around him.
During this happening, a woman on horseback halted her pony at the
chieftain's teepee. It was no other than the young woman who cut loose the
While she told the story the chieftain listened with downcast face. "I
passed him on my way. He is near!" she ended.
Indignant at the bold impostor, the wrathful eyes of the chieftain snapped
fire like red cinders in the night time. His lips were closed. At length
to the woman he said: "How, you have done me a good deed." Then with quick
decision he gave command to a fleet horseman to meet the avenger. "Clothe
him in these my best buckskins," said he, pointing to a bundle within the
In the meanwhile strong men seized Iktomi and dragged him by his long hair
to the hilltop. There upon a mock-pillared grave they bound him hand and
feet. Grown-ups and children sneered and hooted at Iktomi's disgrace. For
a half-day he lay there, the laughing-stock of the people. Upon the
arrival of the real avenger, Iktomi was released and chased away beyond
the outer limits of the camp ground.
On the following morning at daybreak, peeped the people out of half-open
There again in the midst of the large camp ground was a man in beaded
buckskins. In his hand was a strong bow and red-tipped arrow. Again the
big red eagle appeared on the edge of the bluff. He plumed his feathers
and flapped his huge wings.
The young man crouched low to the ground. He placed the arrow on the bow,
drawing a poisoned flint for the eagle.
The bird rose into the air. He moved his outspread wings one, two, three
times and lo! the eagle tumbled from the great height and fell heavily to
the earth. An arrow stuck in his breast! He was dead!
So quick was the hand of the avenger, so sure his sight, that no one had
seen the arrow fly from his long bent bow.
In awe and amazement the village was dumb. And when the avenger, plucking
a red eagle feather, placed it in his black hair, a loud shout of the
people went up to the sky. Then hither and thither ran singing men and
women making a great feast for the avenger.
Thus he won the beautiful Indian princess who never tired of telling to
her children the story of the big red eagle.