Native American Legends
Tumilkoontaoo, Or the broken wing
A Micmac Legend
An Indian family lived on the seashore. They had two sons; the
eldest of these was married, and had many small children. They lived
by fishing; they chiefly caught eels.
It came to pass that the weather was so stormy that they could
not fish. The wind blew terribly night and day; the waves were like
dancing, hills. Hunger made them fierce. One day the father told
his boys to walk along the shore and see if no fish had been cast
on the beach.
A young man went; he went far along; and as he went the wind was
ever worse; it blew so fiercely that he could hardly stand. It seemed
to come from a point of land. He resolved to pass it, and when there
he saw the cause of the tempest. Upon a kwesopskeak'--a high
and rocky ledge, a bold cliff, but surrounded by the water--sat
the Wind-Bird, or storm-sagamore himself, flapping his wings, and
thereby raising all the wind.
Then the young man, who was brave and wise, resolved to outwit
the wind-god. And approaching him and addressing him as Nikskamich,
"My grandfather," he inquired, "are you cold!" And he answered,
"Nay;" but the young man insisted that he must be suffering, and
offered to carry him on his back to the main-land. And the offer
being accepted, he carried the mighty bird from one weedy, slippery
rock to another, up and down, jumping anon, and wading through the
pools. But at the last rock he, with full intention, stumbled and
fell as if by accident, yet managed it so well as to break one of
the wings of the eagle, as he indeed meant to do. Yet he made great
show of being very sorry, and, having set the wing, bade the bird
keep quiet, and not move his wings for many days; not till the wound
was healed should he stir them. "Sit still, Nikskamich," he said,
"and I will bring you food; I will be attentive; you shall want
nothing." And the god sat still: there was a calm on the water;
no leaves moved in the forest; there was no wind in all the world.
The young man went home; there was not a breeze, the canoe went
smoothly over the sea, the eels could be seen in the depths, the
Indians caught fish by thousands; never before had they caught so
many. And the sagamore of the birds sat still; the Wind-Bird waited
to get well; the young man fed him every day.
There can be too much of what is good; good turns to evil, sweet
to sour. After many days of quiet calm the sea was covered with
Ogokpegeak, a scum which is caused by sickness among the
fish, and which is thrown off by them, for they suffer in still
water. Then the fisherman can no longer look down into the sea;
then he cannot use the spear.
Then the young man, examining the wing of the storm-bird, said,
Grandfather, it is much better; move it but a little now, that I
may see!" So he moved it; he gave a flap, and lo! a slight ripple
passed over the surface of the sleeping sea. And striking lightly
with his wings, again there came a breeze, and the Ogokpegeak,
or the scum, was blown away, and the Indians fished again, and all
So they had the Wind-Bird for a friend, and the sea was smooth
or stormy as they willed. But these Indians wished for more than
they could manage. They grew tired of catching small fish; they
wanted whales. "Let us go and catch the Bootup!" said the elder
brother. "How will you take him?" asked the younger. "I will entice
him with the peepoogwokan," said the elder, "with my pipe."
So he sat by the sea; he played on the pipe; he played, but no whale
came. So they went back to their small fishery.
This is manifestly the beginning and end of a very ancient Indian
mythical tale. The Micmacs have tacked on to it a ridiculous fragment
of an indifferent French nursery tale, without an end and without
any connection with the Indian beginning. The tradition is probably
entirely Eskimo. Among the Greenlanders there is a caste of whale-fishers,
separate and apart, and this story, in its second stage, was applied
to teach, Ne sutor ultra crepidam,--that all should stick
to their trades, and that though a sorcerer might rule the winds
it did not follow that he could win the whales.
I have spoken before of the curious identity of the Indian storm-king,
or Wind-Bird, with that of the Norse Hrosvelgar. When among the
Chippewas, west of Lake Superior, I met with a white man who had
received the name of Thunder-Bird from the Indians still further
The magicians of all countries, be they of Africa, Asia, or North
America, are invariably represented by travelers as holding their
flock in subjection, and never being doubted as to power or skill.
But there are skeptics or Agnostics among the men of the woods as
well as among those of civilized cities. There are shrewd fellows
who cannot only detect impostors, but turn their tricks to their
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