Native American Legends
The Partridge Spirit
An Algonquin Legend
One red autumn, two brothers went on a hunting expedition for their
tribe. They come to the source of the Penobscott river and there
they stayed all winter. They had no woman with them to do all the
tasks that make a hunter thankful.
So most of the daily tasks fell upon the younger brother who said
to his older brother, "I wish there were a woman in our wigwam
to mend and cook, to sew and clean for us."
"Well, our mother and sisters are at home, brother. We must
do the best we can," replied the older brother. By the time
spring came around, their snowshoes were broken and their moccasins
were full of holes.
One day, when the snow was still hard and icy, the younger brother
came home to find that the wigwam was clean and tidy! A fire was
burning and there was hot water already boiling in the pot. He said
nothing to his brother, but the next day, he returned home early
in order to spy on the wigwam. In the light of the dying sun, he
saw a beautiful maiden step through the woods and busy herself about
the household tasks. She was smaller and more delicate than any
woman he had ever seen. He stepped into the wigwam and greeted her,
"Thank you, maiden, for the work you've been doing. It's very
hard for hunters to be alone during the harsh winter."
She replied, "Your brother is coming. I am frightened of him.
But I will see you tomorrow if you come home early." With that,
she slipped away.
The young hunter said nothing to his brother, but the next day
he crept home early and there was the maiden again. Together they
played in the snow like children. Just before the sun went down,
the young hunter begged her, "Please stay with me forever.
My heart was never so happy as now."
The maiden frowned. "Speak to your brother tonight. Tell him
everything. Maybe I will stay and serve you both, for I can make
snowshoes and moccasins, and build canoes." With that, she
When the elder brother came home, he listened eagerly to his young
brother, then said, "It seems that we have been lucky! I would
be very glad to have a woman help us and care for our camp."
The next morning, the maiden came again. Behind her she pulled
a toboggan piled high with hand - sewn garments and finely worked
weapons. She greeted both the brothers, who exclaimed at the beauty
of the clothes and weapons. "I too am a hunter," was all
she would say and she set to work.
The rest of the snowbound spring passed quickly. The maiden cared
for the hunters, sewing, mending and making herself useful in ways
that they both quickly took for granted. They also seemed to be
particularly lucky in their hunting. They soon had many furs and
were ready to return to their tribe.
When the snow began to thaw, the brothers returned home by canoe
down the Penobscott river. When they were halfway down the river
the maiden began to look pale and faint. "Stop!" she called
out to the hunters. I can go no further." They sculled to the
bank and set her down.
Now although they didn't know it, the maiden had sent out her soul
back to the wigwam where they had lived all winter. "Leave
me here," she begged. "Say nothing about me to your father,
for he would have nothing but scorn for me."
The younger brother was heartbroken. "But I want you to stay
with me forever!" He did not realize that the maiden could
not come with him because she wasn't a human being at all, but one
of the forest spirits.
"It cannot be," replied the maiden. "You must leave
The two brothers returned to their village. When they unpacked
the canoe and their family saw the heap of fine furs that they had
brought back with them, there was great rejoicing. During the celebrations,
the elder brother could not keep quiet about how their luck had
changed. He boasted about the strange maiden who had helped them
in the depths of the winter.
His father trembled and grew very angry. "All my life I have
feared this very thing. My sons, that was no ordinary woman! You
have been in the presence of a ghost, a forest spirit, a trickster
of the snows! She is a Mikumwess, a witch that can do great harm
to human beings."
The elder brother thought to himself, "She may have put a
spell upon me. What a fool I've been, not to see it!"
However, the younger brother thought, "Maybe there's something
in what father says. Maybe she is a forest spirit. But I didn't
feel I was in danger at any time. She was my dearest friend, and
I wanted her to be my wife." But he was young and was more
inclined to listen to his father's fears than to the wisdom of his
The father made such a fuss about the maiden being a Mikumwess
that the elder brother made a decision. "Come, brother!"
he said one day. "Let's go hunting."
Taking some special arrows that were said to be good against witches,
the elder brother began to track the maiden. The younger brother
didn't know what they were hunting. Suddenly, the elder brother
caught sight of the maiden bathing in the stream and drew his bow.
At the same time, his brother saw her and started to call and wave
to her, but too late! The elder brother's arrow had already flown.
Where the maiden had been swimming was now a confusion of water
and feathers. Then they both saw her rise in the shape of a partridge
into the sky.
The younger brother's heart was very heavy and he walked silently
away. As he was sitting sadly in a birch clearing, a partridge landed
at his feet and changed into the maiden. He threw himself at her
feet and cried, "Forgive me! I didn't know what my brother
intended! I never meant to hunt you, my dearest one!"
"Do not blame yourself," said the maiden. "I know
everything. It was not your father's fault either, for he spoke
from fear and ignorance. The past is forgotten already. I promise
you that the best is yet to come."
And together they played in the woods, as once they had played
in the snows, forgetting their sorrows. When the crows flew home
to their nests, the young hunter said, I must return."
The maiden answered, "When you want to see me, come to the
woods and I will be here. But, remember, do not marry anyone! Your
father has a girl in mind and will speak of marriage soon."
And she told him what his father would say, word for word.
He listened carefully, but was not surprised by her words. He knew
for certain that she was, indeed, a forest spirit, but he was not
They kissed gently under the birch trees. "Remember,"
she reminded him, "if you marry, You will surely die!"
When the young man went home that night, his father spoke, just
as the maiden said he would. "My son, I have found a wife for
you and the wedding will be this week."
The young hunter nodded and said, "So be it!"
The young bride was brought from her family's wigwam and the wedding
feast began. For four days everyone danced and ate and told stories.
But on the last day, the young bridegroom began to feel ill. His
family laid him upon a white bearskin, but he grew worse and worse.
They tried all kinds of remedies to heal him.
But the young hunter's soul yearned for the partridge maiden and
as he lay dying, his soul flew out of his body searching for her.
At the moment he found her, his soul finally left his body, and
they ran together through the woods, never to be parted again.
When his sorrowful family brought the bride to where the young
hunter lay, they found that he was already dead. But his face was
calm and happy, for he had found his true bride at last.
Native American Legends
Back to Top
Other Native American Legends