Native American Legends
The Shooting of Red Eagle
A Lakota Legend
A man in buckskins sat upon the top of a little hillock. The setting
sun shone bright upon a strong bow in his hand. His face was turned
toward the round camp ground at the foot of the hill. He had walked
a long journey hither. He was waiting for the chieftain's men to
Soon four strong men ran forth from the center wigwam toward the
hillock, where sat the man with the long bow. "He is the avenger
come to shoot the red eagle," cried the runners to each other
as they bent forward swinging their elbows together. They reached
the side of the stranger, but he did not heed them.
Proud and silent he gazed upon the cone-shaped wigwams beneath
him. Spreading a handsomely decorated buffalo robe before the man,
two of the warriors lifted him by each shoulder and placed him gently
on it. Then the four men each took a corner of the blanket and carried
the stranger, with long proud steps, toward the chieftain's tipi.
Ready to greet the stranger, the tall chieftain stood at the entrance
way. "How, you are the avenger with the magic arrow!"
said he, extending to him a smooth soft hand.
"Hau, great chieftain!" replied the man, holding long
the chieftain's hand.
Entering the tipi, the chieftain motioned the young man to the
right side of the doorway, while he sat down opposite him with a
center fire burning between them.
Wordless, like a bashful Indian maid, the avenger ate in silence
the food set before him on the ground in front of his crossed shins.
When he had finished his meal he handed the empty bowl to the chieftain's
wife, saying, "Mother-in- law, here is your dish!"
"Han, my son!" answered the woman, taking the bowl.
With the magic arrow in his quiver the stranger felt not in the
least too presuming in addressing the woman as his mother- in-law.
Complaining of fatigue, he covered his face with his blanket and
soon within the chieftain's tipi he lay fast asleep.
"The young man is not handsome after all!" whispered
the woman in her husband's ear. "Ah, but after he has killed
the red eagle he will seem handsome enough!" answered the chieftain.
That night the star men in their burial procession in the sky reached
the low northern horizon before the center fires within the tipi's
had flickered out. The ringing laughter which had floated up through
the smoke lapels was now hushed, and only the distant howling of
wolves broke the quiet of the village.
But the lull between midnight and dawn was short indeed.
Very early the oval-shaped door-flaps were thrust aside and many
brown faces peered out of the wigwams toward the top of the highest
bluff. Now the sun rose up out of the east. The red painted avenger
stood ready within the camp ground for the flying of the red eagle.
He appeared, that terrible bird! He hovered over the round village
as if he could pounce down upon it and devour the whole tribe.
When the first arrow shot up into the sky the anxious watchers
thrust a hand quickly over their half-uttered "Hinnu!"
The second and the third arrows flew upward but missed by a wide
space the red eagle soaring with lazy indifference over the little
man with the long bow. All his arrows he spent in vain.
"Ah! my blanket brushed my elbow and shifted the course of
my arrow!" said the stranger as the people gathered around
During this happening, a woman on horseback halted her pony at
the chieftain's tipi. It was no other than the young woman who cut
loose the tree- bound captive!
While she told the story the chieftain listened with downcast face.
"I passed him on my way. He is near!" she ended.
Indignant at the bold impostor, the wrathful eyes of the chieftain
snapped fire like red cinders in the night time. His lips were closed.
At length to the woman he said: "How, you have done me a good
deed." Then with quick decision he gave command to a fleet
horseman to meet the avenger.
"Clothe him in these my best buckskins," said he, pointing
to a bundle within the wigwam. In the meanwhile strong men seized
Iktomi and dragged him by his long hair to the hilltop. There upon
a mock-pillared grave they bound him hand and feet.
Grown-ups and children sneered and hooted at Iktomi's disgrace.
For a half- day he lay there, the laughing-stock of the people.
Upon the arrival of the real avenger, Iktomi was released and chased
away beyond the outer limits of the camp ground.
On the following morning at daybreak, peeped the people out of
half-open door-flaps. There again in the midst of the large camp
ground was a man in beaded buckskins. In his hand was a strong bow
and red-tipped arrow.
Again the big red eagle appeared on the edge of the bluff. He plumed
his feathers and flapped his huge wings.
The young man crouched low to the ground. He placed the arrow on
the bow, drawing a poisoned flint for the eagle.
The bird rose into the air. He moved his outspread wings one, two,
three times and lo! the eagle tumbled from the great height and
fell heavily to the earth. An arrow was stuck in his breast! He
So quick was the hand of the avenger, so sure his sight, that no
one had seen the arrow fly from his long bent bow. In awe and amazement
the village was dumb. And when the avenger, plucking a red eagle
feather, placed it in his black hair, a loud shout of the people
went up to the sky.
Then hither and thither ran singing men and women making a great
feast for the avenger.
Thus he won the beautiful Indian princess who never tired of telling
to her children the story of the big red eagle.
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