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North American Cardinal Myths & Tales

An American Indian Cardinal Legend

Indian Cardinal legendThe American Indian legend begins with a raccoon passing by a wolf on a wooded path. As is his nature, the raccoon cannot resist insulting the wolf. Upon hearing the insult, the wolf naturally begins to chase him. The raccoon runs to a large tree where he hides on a tree limb hanging over a creek. Exhausted from the chase, the wolf stops to drink from the creek. As he laps up the fresh water, he sees the raccoon’s reflection in the water. After diving into the water, he realizes that it is only a reflection. In the midst of the watery illusion however, the wolf nearly drowns before reaching the shore. Drained from the ordeal, the wolf quickly falls asleep. As the raccoon sees this, he comes down from the safety of the tree limb and plasters the wolf’s eyes shut with clay from the bottom of the creek.

When the wolf awakens, he struggles and wines as he tries to wipe the hardened clay from his eyes. In utter frustration, he begins to howl. Upon hearing the poor animal's cries, an unattractive little brown bird comes to see if he can help. Upon hearing the wolf's story, the bird begins pecking at the clay around his eyes until the last chunk of clay is gone. The wolf is so grateful to the little brown bird that he asks what he can possibly do to repay him. When the kindly bird declines the wolf’s offer, the wolf has an idea. He takes the bird to a place where red rock covers the land. He mixes the rock with water, and as he begins painting the bird red and he declares that he is now a “Red Bird” and from that day forward, all of his children would be born with beautiful crimson feathers. So began the tradition in the tribe that all the boy children wear red feathers.

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