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Opeechee Or The Origin Of The Robin

Source: The Myth Of Hiawatha


An old man had an only son named Opeechee, who had come to that age
which is thought to be most proper to make the long and final fast,
that is to secure through life a guardian genius or spirit. In the
influence of this choice, it is well known, our people have relied for
their prosperity in after life; it was, therefore, an event of deep

The old man was ambitious that his son should surpass all others in
whatever was deemed most wise and great among his tribe; and, to fulfil
his wishes, he thought it necessary that he should fast a much longer
time than any of those persons, renowned for their prowess or wisdom,
whose fame he coveted. He therefore directed his son to prepare, with
great ceremony, for the important event. After he had been in the
sweating lodge and bath several times, he ordered him to lie down upon
a clean mat, in a little lodge expressly prepared for him; telling him,
at the same time, to endure his fast like a man, and that, at the
expiration of twelve days, he should receive food and the blessing of
his father.

The lad carefully observed this injunction, lying with perfect
composure, with his face covered, awaiting those mystic visitations
which were to seal his good or evil fortune. His father visited him
regularly every morning, to encourage him to perseverance, expatiating
at length on the honor and renown that would attend him through life if
he accomplished the full term prescribed. To these admonitions and
encouragements the boy never replied, but lay, without the least sign
of discontent or murmuring, until the ninth day, when he addressed his
father as follows:--

"My father, my dreams forebode evil. May I break my fast now, and at a
more propitious time make a new fast?" The father answered--

"My son, you know not what you ask. If you get up now, all your glory
will depart. Wait patiently a little longer. You have but three days
yet to accomplish your desire. You know it is for your own good, and I
encourage you to persevere."

The son assented; and, covering himself closer, he lay till the
eleventh day, when he repeated his request. Very nearly the same answer
was given him by his father, who added that the next day he would
himself prepare his first meal, and bring it to him. The boy remained
silent, but lay as motionless as a corpse. No one would have known he
was living but by the gentle heaving of his breast.

The next morning, the father, elated at having gained his end, prepared
a repast for his son, and hastened to set it before him. On coming to
the door, he was surprised to hear his son talking to himself. He
stooped to listen; and, looking through a small aperture, was more
astonished when he beheld his son painted with vermilion over all his
breast, and in the act of finishing his work by laying on the paint as
far back on his shoulders as he could reach with his hands, saying, at
the same time, to himself, "My father has destroyed my fortune as a
man. He would not listen to my requests. He will be the loser. I shall
be forever happy in my new state, for I have been obedient to my
parent; he alone will be the sufferer, for my guardian spirit is a just
one; though not propitious to me in the manner I desired, he has shown
me pity in another way; he has given me another shape; and now I must

At this moment the old man broke in, exclaiming, "My son! my son! I
pray you leave me not." But the young man, with the quickness of a
bird, had flown to the top of the lodge, and perched himself on the
highest pole, having been changed into a beautiful robin redbreast.

He looked down upon his father with pity beaming in his eyes, and
addressed him as follows: "Regret not, my father, the change you
behold. I shall be happier in my present state than I could have been
as a man. I shall always be the friend of men, and keep near their
dwellings. I shall ever be happy and contented; and although I could
not gratify your wishes as a warrior, it will be my daily aim to make
you amends for it as a harbinger of peace and joy. I will cheer you by
my songs, and strive to inspire in others the joy and lightsomeness I
feel in my present state. This will be some compensation to you for the
loss of the glory you expected. I am now free from the cares and pains
of human life. My food is spontaneously furnished by the mountains and
fields, and my pathway of life is in the bright air." Then stretching
himself on his toes, as if delighted with the gift of wings, he
carolled one of his sweetest songs, and flew away into a neighboring

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