Why The Woodpecker's Head Is Red
Source: The Book Of Nature Myths
One day the woodpecker said to the Great Spirit, "Men do not like me. I
wish they did."
The Great Spirit said, "If you wish men to love you, you must be good to
them and help them. Then they will call you their friend."
"How can a little bird help a man?" asked the woodpecker.
"If one wishes to help, the day will come when he can help," said the
Great Spirit. The day did come, and this story shows how a little bird
helped a strong warrior.
There was once a cruel magician who lived in a gloomy wigwam beside the
Black-Sea-Water. He did not like flowers, and they did not blossom in
his pathway. He did not like birds, and they did not sing in the trees
above him. The breath of his nostrils was fatal to all life. North,
south, east, and west he blew the deadly fever that killed the women and
the little children.
"Can I help them?" thought a brave warrior, and he said, "I will find
the magician, and see if death will not come to him as he has made it
come to others. I will go straightway to his home."
For many days the brave warrior was in his canoe traveling across the
Black-Sea-Water. At last he saw the gloomy wigwam of the cruel magician.
He shot an arrow at the door and called, "Come out, O coward! You have
killed women and children with your fatal breath, but you cannot kill a
warrior. Come out and fight, if you are not afraid."
The cruel magician laughed loud and long. "One breath of fever," he
said, "and you will fall to the earth." The warrior shot again, and then
the magician was angry. He did not laugh, but he came straight out of
his gloomy lodge, and as he came, he blew the fever all about him.
Then was seen the greatest fight that the sun had ever looked upon. The
brave warrior shot his flint-tipped arrows, but the magician had on his
magic cloak, and the arrows could not wound him. He blew from his
nostrils the deadly breath of fever, but the heart of the warrior was so
strong that the fever could not kill him.
At last the brave warrior had but three arrows in his quiver. "What
shall I do?" he said sadly. "My arrows are good and my aim is good, but
no arrow can go through the magic cloak."
"Come on, come on," called the magician. "You are the man who wished to
fight. Come on." Then a woodpecker in a tree above the brave warrior
said softly, "Aim your arrow at his head, O warrior! Do not shoot at
his heart, but at the crest of feathers on his head. He can be wounded
there, but not in his heart."
The warrior was not so proud that he could not listen to a little bird.
The magician bent to lift a stone, and an arrow flew from the warrior's
bow. It buzzed and stung like a wasp. It came so close to the crest of
feathers that the magician trembled with terror. Before he could run,
another arrow came, and this one struck him right on his crest. His
heart grew cold with fear. "Death has struck me," he cried.
"Your cruel life is over," said the warrior. "People shall no longer
fear your fatal breath." Then he said to the woodpecker, "Little bird,
you have been a good friend to me, and I will do all that I can for
you." He put some of the red blood of the magician upon the little
creature's head. It made the crest of feathers there as red as flame.
"Whenever a man looks upon you," said the warrior, "he will say, 'That
bird is our friend. He helped to kill the cruel magician.'"
The little woodpecker was very proud of his red crest because it showed
that he was the friend of man, and all his children to this day are as
proud as he was.
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