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Story No. 4182

How the Redbird Got His Color

Book Name:

Myths of the Cherokee

Tradition: Indian Cherokee

A Raccoon passing a Wolf one day made several insulting remarks, until at last the Wolf became angry and turned and chased him. The Raccoon ran his best and managed to reach a tree by the river side before the Wolf came up. He climbed the tree and stretched out on a limb overhanging the water. When the Wolf arrived he saw the reflection in the water, and thinking it was the Raccoon he jumped at it and was nearly drowned before he could scramble out again, all wet and dripping. He lay down on the bank to dry and fell asleep. and while he was sleeping the Raccoon came down the tree and plastered his eves with dung. When the Wolf awoke he found he could not open his eyes, and began to whine. Along came a little brown and through the bushes and beard the Wolf crying and asked what was the matter. The Wolf told his story and said, "If you will got my eves open, I will show you where to find some nice red paint to paint yourself."

"All right," said the brown bird; so he pecked at the Wolf's eyes until he got off all the plaster. Then the Wolf took him to a rock that had streaks of bright red paint running through it, and the little bird painted himself with it, and has ever since been a Redbird.


This short story was obtained from Cornelius Boudinot, a prominent mixed-blood of Tahlequah, and differs from the standard Cherokee myth, according to which the redbird is the transformed daughter of the Sun (see number 5, “The Daughter of the Sun”).

Red paint – Much sacredness attaches, in the Indian mind, to red paint, the color being symbolic of war, strength, success, and spirit protection. The word paint, in any Indian language, is generally understood to mean red paint, unless it is otherwise distinctly noted. The Indian red paint is usually a soft hematite ore, found in veins of hard-rock formation, from which it must be dug with much labor and patience. In the western tribes everyone coming thus to procure paint makes a prayer beside the rock and hangs a small sacrifice upon a convenient bush or stick before beginning operations.


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