Native American Legends
The boy who learned the songs of birds
A Seneca Legend
Two brothers lived by themselves and supposed they were the only
persons in the world. The younger was a little fellow but he did
the thinking for both. Whatever he said the elder brother did. One
day he said,--
"Brother, kill a turkey for me. I want two feathers." The young
man killed a turkey and brought it home. When he gave it to the
little boy he asked, "What are you going to do with the feathers?"
"I want them for a head-dress," answered the boy, and pulling two
feathers from the turkey he gave them to his brother and asked him
to fix them in a socket in such a way that they would turn with
When this was done, the little boy fastened the socket to a band
and wore the feathers for a head-dress. At night he hung the head-dress
on the wall over his couch but as soon as daylight came he put it
on his head. One morning, when going out, he said to his brother,
"I like my feathers and I am going to have a dance for them."
The young man watched till the boy disappeared behind a fallen
tree. Soon he heard singing and then he heard dancing. He was frightened
and said to himself, "Something is the matter with my brother."
When the boy came back, the young man asked, "What were you doing?
Were you dancing behind that tree? Why did you go so far? Why didn't
you dance right here with me, not go off alone."
"You don't know the songs I sing."
"I can learn them, then I can help you."
"If you want to help me, you may dance." "It isn't right for me
to dance when I don't know how to sing, and haven't feathers in
'I will change places with you," said the little boy. "You may
hunt small game and I will hunt deer. I have hunted birds, for from
them I learn songs. Your game does not sing. But maybe I could not
kill big game, I am so small, and maybe you couldn't kill birds,
You are so large."
"Well," said the elder brother. "You may sing and dance all you
want to, I will hunt."
The young man continued to hunt large game. Often when coming toward
home, he heard his little brother' singing and dancing but as soon
as the boy saw him be began to do something else, as though he had
not been singing or dancing. This frightened the young man and made
him think that something was going to happen, Once he asked his
"Why have you stopped hunting for birds?"
"I listen to their songs," said the boy. "That is why I don't shoot
One day he said to his brother, "My feathers are worn out. I want
you to kill another turkey."
The young man killed the largest turkey he could find and brought
"Skin the turkey," said the boy, "and make me a pouch."
When the pouch was finished, the young man gave it to his brother,
and asked, "Do you like it?"
"Yes," said the boy. "It is just as I wanted it to be.
While the skin was drying, the boy often put it around his body
and went off into the woods. When he came back to the cabin he took
the skin off and hung it up.
"You must not go far from the cabin," said his brother.
"No," answered the boy. "I will stay near home and take care of
Once he said to his brother, "You must stay at home, not go hunting
today. I want you to learn to sing my songs. What I do now will
be for the people who are to come. I will make a rule that the people
to come must wear feathers and dance and sing."
The elder brother studied over this and wondered how a little boy
could have such thoughts.
"Now," said the boy, "I am going to sing a song. You must listen
and learn it."
He sang a song.
"What is the name of that song?" asked the elder brother.
From singing the songs of the birds the boy had grown very wise.
"It is the song the people will sing when they wear feathers on
their heads (War-song). You must be careful in singing it; if not,
you will fall to the ground senseless. I sing what I have heard
the birds sing. I give thanks as I have heard them do when I was
hunting. I dance to my songs because I hear the birds sing and see
them dance. We must do as they do. It will make us feel glad and
One day when the brothers. were out looking around, they saw a
large bird sitting on a tree. When the bird began to sing, the young
man knew that his brother had learned its song for he had heard
him sing it. "You are very wise," said he to the boy, "I think the
Great Spirit tells the birds to teach us songs," and he began singing
a song of his own, different from those his brother sang.
"Do you think I could dance to your song?" asked the little boy.
"I'll try if you will sing it again."
Instead of singing, the elder brother said, "I will tell you the
words of my song, they are, 'I am glad to see the day. I am thankful
for the sunbeams.'"
"I know the song," said the boy. "It is different from mine. There
isn't as much joy in it. When we are sad we will sing your song
and gain courage. Now you must hunt for your kind of game and I
will hunt for mine."
As the young man was starting off, the boy jumped into his turkey
skin, and said, "Brother, I will go with you."
"Oh no," said his brother, "I go too far. You would get tired."
The boy insisted and at last the young man said, "You may go part
of the way, but all of the way would be too far."
When they had gone a long distance, the young man said: "This is
far enough for you to go. You must go back now."
The boy went home hopping and running exactly like a turkey.
The young man noticed that his brother was wearing his turkey skin
all the time, that he wore it nights. He didn't like this and he
asked him to take it off.
"You made it for me," said the boy. "I like to wear it."
The young man was fond of the boy so he didn't say any more. Afterward,
when he mentioned the turkey skin, he always received the same answer.
"You made it for me, and I like to wear it."
The boy played like a turkey and when he saw wild turkeys he imitated
the noise they made. He was learning the habits of a turkey. The
young man worried over this.
The boy no longer wore feathers on his head, and his voice began
to change; it didn't sound like his voice. At last his brother told
him to take the skin off.
The boy said, "I can't take it off. You will have to help me."
The young man pulled but couldn't get the skin off. It had grown
to the boy's body.
Turkey said, "I shall stay with you always, but you must be careful;
something is going to happen."
He was very wise now; his advice was better than ever; it was beyond
the comprehension of his brother.
Once, when the young man came home, he couldn't find Turkey but
the next morning he heard him on the roof of the cabin making the
noise that a turkey makes at daybreak. He felt strangely, felt that
his brother had become a real turkey. Soon he heard him jump down,
then be came into the cabin, and said, "Brother, a woman is coming.
I think she is coming for you. You must be careful. Something is
going to happen to us. If you go with her, I shall follow you."
When the woman came near the cabin she saw a turkey standing in
front of it. She looked at the bird but didn't say anything. Going
into the cabin she said to the young man, "I have come for you."
"I will tell my brother and find out what he thinks about it,"
answered the young man. The woman didn't know the turkey she saw
outside was the young man's brother,
He went to Turkey, and said, "A woman has come."
"Didn't I tell you one was coming. She is full of witchcraft and
she will try to destroy us you must tell her that you are not ready
to go, that you will start tomorrow. Something bad is going to happen
The young man said to the woman, "I will go with you as soon as
I can get ready."
Turkey determined to stay in the house that night. He hopped in
and perched on a roost his brother made for him. The woman thought
the boy was a tame turkey.
The next morning neither of the brothers could eat. The elder said,
"I must go with this woman."
"It is wrong to go," said Turkey, "She has great power. It will
be hard to outwit her."
When the woman and the young man started, Turkey followed them
till he saw them turn and go toward the West, then he went back
to the cabin. He was very lonely. The next morning he said to himself:
"Poor brother, that woman has taken him away from me. She is going
to kill him. I must go and see what is happening to him."
He traveled toward the West till he came to an opening in the woods.
In the opening was a cabin.
"That must be the place," thought the boy.
An old woman who was in the cabin said to her daughter, "There
is a turkey outside. It is tame. Maybe it has come to stay with
Right away the young man knew that his little brother had come.
The women took a fancy to the turkey. They didn't think of trying
to kill it. Toward night one of the women wanted to shut it up so
it couldn't go away but the boy ran out and perched on the roof
so as to see and hear everything.
The next morning, when the young man came out of the cabin his
brother followed him, and asked: "Brother, how can you stay here
and be abused by the old woman and her daughter? They don't give
you anything to eat. They are going to kill you. I have come to
tell you this and to tell you that I am going to save you."
Turkey started toward the East. As his brother watched him, he
said, "I am glad he can go where he wants to."
Turkey was angry at the women. When he reached home, he thought,
"I must get out of this skin, get my own form. I've been a turkey
long enough," and he pulled and worked till at last he freed himself.
He hung the skin up and put the feather band around his head, then
he began to study over how he could free his brother. After a while
he said, "This is what I will do," and going out he called to his
medicine, Moose. As soon as he called Moose was there.
The boy said to it, "Go to the West, to where the old woman and
her daughter live, when my brother comes out of the cabin, seize
him and throw him onto your back, then run with all your strength.
Take off your feathers (horns) and I will put mine onto your head;
yours are too heavy to run with.
The Moose held its head down; the boy took off its horns and put
his feather band in their place, saying, "When you come back, I
will give you your feathers."
Moose ran off in the direction of the old woman's cabin and the
boy said to himself, "He will soon come back." In a short time he
heard a noise and going outside saw his brother clinging to Moose's
back; he was so weak that he couldn't get off alone.
"I told you that something bad would happen," said the boy, "Now
you have your punishment." To Moose he said, "Stand here a while."
He helped his brother into the cabin and when he came back he changed
feathers with Moose and sent him away.
"I am glad to have you back," said the boy to his brother. "We
are free now from the old woman and her daughter and can live together
They lived together ever after and continued to learn the songs
From birds came all the Indian songs and dances.
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