Native American Legends
How the Crow came to be black
A Brule Sioux Legend
In days long past, when the earth and the people on it were still
young, all crows were white as snow. In those ancient times the
people had neither horses nor firearms nor weapons of iron. Yet
they depended upon the buffalo hunt to give them enough food to
Hunting the big buffalo on foot with stone-tipped weapons was hard,
uncertain, and dangerous. The crows made things even more difficult
for the hunters, because they were friends of the buffalo. Soaring
high above the prairie, they could see everything that was going
on. Whenever they spied hunters approaching a buffalo herd, they
flew to their friends and, perching between their horns, warned
them: "Caw, caw, caw, cousins, hunters are coming. They are
creeping up through that gully over there. They are coming up behind
that hill. Watch out! Caw, caw, caw!" Hearing this, the buffalo
would stampede, and the people starved.
The people held a council to decide what to do. Now, among the
crows was a huge one, twice as big as all the others. This crow
was their leader. One wise old chief got up and made this suggestion:
"We must capture the big white crow," he said, "and
teach him a lesson. It's either that or go hungry."
He brought out a large buffalo skin, with the head and horns still
attached. He put it on the back of a young brave, saying: "Nephew,
sneak among the buffalo. They will think you are one of them, and
you can capture the big white crow."
Disguised as a buffalo, the young man crept among the herd as if
he were grazing. The big, shaggy beasts paid him no attention.
Then the hunters marched out from their camp after him, their bows
at the ready. As they approached the herd, the crows came flying,
as usual, warning the buffalo: "Caw, caw, caw, cousins, the
hunters are coming to kill you. Watch out for their arrows. Caw,
caw, caw!" and as usual, all the buffalo stampeded off and
away - all, that is, except the young hunter in disguise under his
shaggy skin, who pretended to go on grazing as before.
Then the big white crow came gliding down, perched on the hunter's
shoulders, and flapping his wings, said: "Caw, caw, caw, brother,
are you deaf? The hunters are close by, just over the hill. Save
But the young brave reached out from under the buffalo skin and
grabbed the crow by the legs.
With a rawhide string he tied the big bird's feet and fastened
the other end to a stone. No matter how the crow struggled, he could
Again the people sat in council. "What shall we do with this
big, bad crow, who has made us go hungry again and again?"
"I'll burn him up!" answered one angry hunter, and before
anybody could stop him, he yanked the crow from the hands of his
captor and thrust it into the council fire, string, stone and all.
"This will teach you," he said.
Of course, the string that held the stone burned through almost
at once, and the big crow managed to fly out of the fire. But he
was badly singed, and some of his feathers were charred. Though
he was still big, he was no longer white.
"Caw, caw, caw," he cried, flying away as quickly as
he could, "I'll never do it again; I'll stop warning the buffalo,
and so will the Crow nation. I promise! Caw, caw, caw."
Thus the crow escaped. But ever since, all crows have been black.
- Told by Good White Buffalo at Winner, Rosebud Indian Reservation,
South Dakota, 1964.
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