Native American Legends
Why the Curlew's bill is long and crooked
A Blackfoot Legend
"One day he saw some mice playing and went near to watch them.
It was springtime, and the frost was just coming out of the ground.
A big flat rock was sticking out of a bank near a creek, and the
sun had melted the frost from the earth about it, loosening it,
so that it was about to fall. The Chief-Mouse would sing a song,
while all the other mice danced, and then the chief would cry 'now!'
and all the mice would run past the big rock. On the other side,
the Chief-Mouse would sing again, and then say 'now!' -- back they
would come -- right under the dangerous rock. Sometimes little bits
of dirt would crumble and fall near the rock. as though warning
the mice that the rock was going to fall, but they paid no attention
to the warning, and kept at their playing. Finally Old-Man said:
"'Say, Mouse, I want to try that. I want to play that game.
I am a good runner.'
"He wasn't, you know, but he thought he could run. That is
often where we make great mistakes -- when we try to do things we
were not intended to do.
"'No -- no!' cried the Mouse, as Old-Man prepared to make
the race past the rock. 'No! -- No! -- you will shake the ground.
You are too heavy, and the rock may fall and kill you. My people
are light of foot and fast. We are having a good time, but if you
should try to do as we are doing you might get hurt, and that would
spoil our fun.'
"'Ho!' said Old-Man, 'stand back! I'll show you what a runner
"He ran like a grizzly bear, and shook the ground with his
weight. Snow! -- came the great rock on top of Old-Man and held
him fast in the mud. My! how he screamed and called for aid. All
the Mice-people ran away to find help. It was a long time before
the Mice-people found anybody, but they finally found the Coyote,
and told him what had happened. Coyote didn't like Old-Man very
much, but he said he would go and see what he could do, and he did.
The Mice-people showed him the way, and when they all reached the
spot -- there was Old-Man deep in the mud, with the big rock on
his back. He was angry and was saying things people should not say,
for they do no good and make the mind wicked.
"Coyote said: 'Keep still, you big baby. Quit kicking about
so. You are splashing mud in my eyes. How can I see with my eyes
full of mud? Tell me that. I am going to try to help you out of
your trouble.' He tried but Old-Man insulted Coyote. and called
him a name that is not good, so the Coyote said, 'Well, stay there,'
and went away.
"Again Old-Man began to call for helpers, and the Curlew,
who was flying over, saw the trouble, and came down to the ground
to help. In those days Curlew had a short, stubby bill, and he thought
that he could break the rock by pecking it. He pecked and pecked
away without making any headway, till Old-Man grew angry at him,
as he did at the Coyote. The harder the Curlew worked, the worse
Old-Man scolded him. Old-Man lost his temper altogether, you see,
which is a bad thing to do, for we lose our friends with it, often.
Temper is like a bad dog about a lodge - no friends will come to
see us when he is about.
"Curlew did his best but finally said: 'I'll go and try to
find somebody else to help you. I guess I am too small and weak.
I shall come back to you.' He was standing close to Old-Man when
he spoke, and Old-Man reached out and grabbed the Curlew by the
bill. Curlew began to scream - oh, my - oh, my - oh, my - as you
still hear them in the air when it is morning. Old-Man hung onto
the bill and finally pulled it out long and slim, and bent it downward,
as it is today. Then he let go and laughed at the Curlew.
"'You are a queer-looking bird now. That is a homely bill,
but you shall always wear it and so shall all of your children,
as long as there are Curlews in the world.'
"I have forgotten who it was that got Old-Man out of his trouble,
but it seems to me it was the bear. Anyhow he did get out some-how,
and lived to make trouble, until Manitou grew tired of him.
"There are good things that Old-Man did and tomorrow night,
if you will come early, I will tell you how Old-Man made the world
over after the water made its war on the land, scaring all the animal-people
and the bird-people. I will also tell you how he made the first
man and the first woman and who they were. But now the grouse is
fast asleep; nobody is stirring but those who were made to see in
the dark, like the owl and the wolf.
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