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Native American Legends

How the Partridge built good canoes for all the Birds,
and a bad one for himself

An Algonquin Legend

When a partridge beats upon a hollow log he makes a noise like an Indian at work upon a canoe, and when an Indian taps at a canoe it sounds afar off like the drumming of a partridge, even of Mitchihess. And this comes because that N'karnayoo, of ancient days, the Partridge, was the canoe-builder for all the other birds. Yes, for all at once.

And on a certain day they every one assembled, and each got into his bark, and truly it was a brave sight to see. First of all Kicheeplagon, the Eagle, entered his great shell and paddled off, using the ends of his wings; and then came Ko-ko-kas, the Owl, doing the same; and Kosqu', the Crane, Wee-sow-wee-hessis, the Bluebird, Tjidge-is-skwess, the Snipe, and Meg-sweit-tchip-sis, the Blackbird, all came sailing proudly after. Even the tiny A-la-Mussit, the Humming-Bird, had a dear little boat, and for him the good Partridge had made a pretty little paddle, only that some thought it rather large, for it was almost an inch long. And Ishmegwess, the Fish-Hawk, who lived on the wing, cried in amazement, "Akweden skouje!" "A canoe is coming!" when he beheld this beautiful squadron standing out to sea.

But when Mitchihess, the great builder, was asked why he had not built a canoe for himself, he merely looked mysterious and drummed. And being further questioned by the birds, he shook his head, and at last hinted that when he built a canoe unto himself it would be indeed a marvel; yea, a wonder such as even birds' eyes had never beheld,--an entire novelty, and something to dream of. And this went on for many days.

But in due time it was noised abroad that the wonderful canoe had at last been really built, and would soon be shown. And at an appointed time all the birds assembled on the banks to behold this new thing. Now the Partridge had reasoned that if a boat having two ends could be rowed in two ways, one which was all ends, all round, could be rowed in every way. So he had made a canoe which was exactly like a nest, or perfectly round. And this idea had greatly amazed the honest feathered folk, who were astonished that so simple a thing had not occurred to all of them.

But what was their wonder when Partridge, having entered his canoe and proceeded to paddle, made no headway at all; for it simply turned round and round, and ever and again the same way, let him work it as he would. And after wearying himself and all in vain, he went ashore, and, flying far inland, hid himself for very shame under the low bushes, on the earth, where he yet remains. This is the reason why he never seeks the sea or rivers, and has ever since remained an inland bird.

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