Native American Legends
The Baldness of the Buzzard
A Winnebago (Hotcâk) Legend - Retold by Richard L. Dieterle
In his travels about the world, Trickster climbed up a hill and
when he reached the top, he laid down to rest. As he was looking
up, he saw a bird floating effortlessly in the sky. Trickster thought
to himself how nice it would be to have a view of the whole countryside
like the bird's. Just as Trickster was looking at the bird, so it
was looking at Trickster. It thought that he was an animal that
might make a good meal, so he circled down a bit lower. As soon
as he got a closer look, he could see that he was being watched,
so he floated down to a dead tree with only a few branches. As the
bird perched there, he thought to himself, "I'll preen a few
of these feathers and let the man enjoy my natural beauty. This
bird was a buzzard.
In those times buzzards were very beautiful and also very vain.
As Trickster laid there watching him, he said, "Hâho,
I was watching you circling above. It sure must be great to fly
around with no effort at all." However, the bird said nothing
at all back to Trickster. Then Trickster said,"Did I ever say
how beautiful a bird you are?" "No," replied the
buzzard. "Well, you really are, you know. I like the way that
the light shines from your feathers when you turn your head. But
what I like best is the way you can have a view of the whole world
from where you are flying. I only wish you could give me a ride
so that I too could enjoy it." The bird said, "I can probably
do that," but when he reached Trickster, he said, "You're
way too heavy. If I put you on my back, I would never get off the
ground." "Well," said Trickster, "I can fix
that." Then Trickster thought to himself, "I'll become
just the right size to ride on that bird's back," and no sooner
had he thought this, than he suddenly shrunk in size so that he
was no bigger than a baby. Then he climbed up on the buzzard's back
and hung on tight.
The bird flapped his wings and soon they were airborne. He circled
around until he hit an updraft, then suddenly he sailed away high
into the sky. Trickster exclaimed, "Ah, little brother, this
is truly the life. There is nothing like this, to be able to see
all over. You really have a great life gliding around up here."
Now the buzzard thought Trickster just wanted a short ride, but
nothing could make him return. Now Trickster kept telling the buzzard
to fly here or fly there, and was starting to make a nuisance out
of himself by his constant demands. Suddenly, the buzzard made a
steep turn, and Trickster cried out, "Whoa, watch that or I'll
fall off!" This gave the buzzard an idea. He circled around
and around gradually descending as he went. He was looking for a
hollow stump that he had seen earlier. After much searching, there
it was. He flew directly over it, then he suddenly performed a mid-air
flip, and Trickster fell right off. The buzzard's aim was perfect
and Trickster landed right in the hollow of the stump. Thus stump
had been burned out, and the hole was small enough that Trickster
couldn't get back out again. Trickster was furious, and called the
bird every bad name he could think of. Then he said, for good measure,
"I'll get even with you someday" However, the buzzard
simply ignored him and flew away.
After all that time traveling about the world, now Trickster was
a prisoner. Then Trickster decided to restore himself to his normal
size, but when he did that, he found himself stuck even tighter
than before. Then he heard the voices of women out gathering wood.
They were speaking to one another in Hotcâk. This gave Trickster
an idea, and he sung out,
which means, "I am a big mother raccoon." The woman exclaimed,
"Wehehe! There is something over there. They went over to where
they heard the singing. Then Trickster sand again in a bass voice,
The women said, "Let's get this raccoon, and they began to
chop away at the tree. When they had cut an opening through it,
Trickster held up his raccoon blanket, and the women exclaimed,
"That's a big fat one!" Then Trickster said, "Yes
indeed, I am a really big one. Now, you're going to have to chop
the hole much bigger to get me out." After the women had chopped
away furiously at the stump, the hole was now so big that Trickster
stepped right out. He dropped his blanket and laughed. The women
were so angry at him that they chased him with their axes, but he
made good his escape.
No matter where Trickster went in his travels, he never ceased
thinking about avenging himself against the buzzard. He contemplated
many schemes, but nothing seemed to work. Then one day when he was
watching a herd of buffalo, he suddenly got a brilliant idea: "Now
then," he said, "I'll become a buffalo and drop over dead.
That will give the buzzard just what he wants most, a really big
meal of carrion."
So Trickster turned himself into a buffalo and spent his days grazing
on the luxuriant grass, and in time became very fat. Then he laid
down and died. There he lay in the hot sun, rotting. Some time later
a tcosgenîka bird (woolly? woodpecker) spotted the buffalo
rotting in the grass. This bird is a very noisy one, and when he
returned to the woods, he called out to all the meat eating birds
that there was a fine, big meal going to waste in the meadow.
A great group of birds descended on the corpse and began pecking
it all over, but its hide was so tough that none of the birds could
penetrate it. Trickster shut his eyes so tight that they couldn't
even pick his eyes out. Finally, they called upon the magpie, who
was a large bird with a sharp beak. They told him to peck a hole
right through the hide.
The magpie hammered away for a long time, but could get nowhere.
Then he said, "Let me do this my way. The best way to get into
a tough animal is to enter through its anus." So he began pecking
away at the buffalo's anus, and soon he had made an entry. Then
the other birds went in as well, and flew off with bits of fat.
Eventually, the news reached the buzzard who flew down to a nearby
tree. He was wary of what Trickster might be up to, and was on his
guard against any tricks that might be in the offing; but the other
birds kept saying, "Brother, come on down, we are getting to
the best part now." So finally the buzzard descended, thinking
that he had better get some now before there was nothing good left.
The other birds said, "We found this way in, right through
his anus. We saved it for you, the most beautiful of birds, brother."
So the buzzard stuck his head deep into the rectum of the buffalo.
Then, unexpectedly, the anus tightened around his neck and his head
was trapped inside. Then suddenly the buffalo rose to his feet and
began eating grass. After that he went down and drank a lot of water,
after which he resumed eating enormous amounts of lush, green grass,
the kind that makes strong, hot buffalo chips. After a day of this,
he finally relaxed his anus and let the bird go.
As the bird lay there in shock, Trickster changed himself back
into his normal form. "Well now, you beautiful bird, how did
you like the dinner I served up to you?" When the bird came
to his senses and saw Trickster standing before him, his worst fears
were realized, and he flew up to the nearest tree. There he shook
himself off, but must to his surprise, all the feathers on his head
fell off as he shook. Then Trickster said, "Because you have
abused me, forevermore your kind shall have bald heads, and no longer
will the people say ;you are the most beautiful of birds, for in
truth you will now be the ugliest." Even down to this day turkey
buzzards have no feathers on their head.
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