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shooting of the red eagle.
From Old Indian Legends by zitkala sa.
Start of Story
Age Rating 8 Plus.
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
"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
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 tree-bound captive!
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 wigwam.
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.