The Boy who Flew
narrated by John Michael StCyr
from a story related to him by a Frenchman
John Michael StCyr
(33) This village had a boy. Everybody loved him, so when they went to hunt something, they never let him go. In this country, (34) large birds used to carry men off, and so when the men went hunting they would be traveling only to the edge of the forest. Once he began to ask if he could go hunting just to the edge of the forest, he told them, so they let him go. He came to a prairie. When he got there, in the space above there was nothing stirring. "This is a little prairie, so I ought not to go across this except at a run," he thought. So he took his bow with him and (35) ran to about the center. When he reached there something above made a noise as it came. He looked up. It grabbed both his sides under the waist, then it took him up above. Now he saw the earth as a little green speck. Finally, as he went along, this one took him to the bluffs. This one as he looked around saw a bird's nest. Of the two chicks that this one had, one he killed, (36) and took its skin and put it on. Then he tried to fly, but he didn't like it. And so after he thought about it, he took the bow and on each side he tied a wing. Then he went to the edge of the bluffs. As he was about to jump, he thought again that he would not do it. And doing this he thought, "I'm already dead." Then he started to jump. At first he came on very fast and came close to hitting the bluffs, so he ajusted (37) the attitude of his wings in such a way as to move slower. Then he fell towards the earth. Now then, the earth appeared green. He was happy, so he kept on. Finally, he made it back to the ground, but, however, he landed on ground somewhere else way off. He had done it.
He took off the bird skin, rolled it up, and carried it on his back. He set out in a certain direction and came to an old camping spot. (38) There he slept, and the next morning he began to set out again. Again, after doing it all day long, then he came to a habitation there, which was kind of recent looking. There he slept, and again the next morning he started. When it was evening, he came to a human trail. As he went along, there was this lodge smoking. Now, he was still carrying the bird skin. There he went in and he told it to them there. Again at another camp they called him. There they asked for the bird skin. (39) When he gave it to them, they gave him a horse in return, and they told him, "Your relations are living about four nights journey from here. Tomorrow some of the boys they'll go and take you there," they said to him.1
Commentary. "took its skin" — we are not told what sort of bird carried the boy off to its nest, but we might expect from other such stories that it was a Thunderbird. To furnish the boy with a bird-skin coat, the chicks had to be the size of a young man.
"I'm already dead (čáginį)" — this is a Hočąk proverb meaning "death holds no terrors for me." See the Commentary to Testing the Slave.
"they gave him a horse" — there is a tenancy to draw a connection between Thunderbirds and horses, so it is a point of note that the boy gives away for a mere horse such a valuable item as a bird-skin coat that bequeaths the power of flight.
Comparative Material. The Creek tell a very similar story. A man was out hunting when he noticed a shadow falling over him. Before he knew what happened, a giant eagle seized him and carried him off to its nest. He lived with the eaglets in the nest for some time. Every now and then the mother bird would bring a deer or bear, and the man would roast it for them all to eat. Soon the little eagles became quite tame, and he would venture out in flight a short way from the nest by riding on the back first of one eaglet, then another. Soon the mother began to trust him, so one day he took one of the little eagles and flew a very great distance way. He whacked the eagle on the back of its head, and it became dizzy, circling toward the ground. Everytime the eagle recovered, he would knock it again. Finally, he reach the ground and escaped.2
Links: Bird Spirits, Horses.
Stories: about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Wears White Feather on His Head, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, The Thunderbird, The Boy Who Became a Robin, Partridge's Older Brother, The Woman who Loved Her Half-Brother, The Foolish Hunter, Ocean Duck, Earthmaker Sends Rušewe to the Twins, The Quail Hunter, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Hočąk Arrival Myth, Trickster Gets Pregnant, Trickster and the Geese, Holy One and His Brother (blackbirds, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), The Dipper (Thunderbirds, kingfishers, hummingbirds, black hawks), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, Eagle Clan Origin Myth, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Waruǧápara, The Race for the Chief's Daughter, Black and White Moons, The Markings on the Moon, The Creation Council, Eats the Stinking Part of the Deer Ankle, Earthmaker Blesses Wagíšega (Wešgíšega), The Man Who Would Dream of Mą’ųna (chicken hawk), Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Boy who Flew, Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Baldness of the Buzzard, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (turkey buzzard), The Shaggy Man (blackbirds), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (blackbirds), Redhorn's Sons (Thunderbirds, snowbirds), Spear Shaft and Lacrosse, Įčorúšika and His Brothers (Loon), Great Walker's Medicine (loon), Roaster (woodsplitter), The Spirit of Gambling, The Big Stone (a partridge), Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, The Green Man (owls), The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds, and the sources cited there; mentioning horses: The Big Eater, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Orphan who was Blessed with a Horse, Sun and the Big Eater, Rich Man, Boy, and Horse, Hare Recruits Game Animals for Humans, The Horse Spirit of Eagle Heights, Trickster Takes Little Fox for a Ride, James’ Horse, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, They Owe a Bullet, The Man Whose Wife was Captured (v. 2).
This story is a variant of the first part of Thunderbird and White Horse.
Themes: being carried (off) by a bird: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Baldness of the Buzzard, Thunderbird and White Horse, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Heną́ga and the Star Girl, The Old Man and the Giants; someone is abducted and led off into captivity: The Captive Boys, A Man's Revenge, Bluehorn's Nephews, The Lost Child, Wears White Feather on His Head, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Bird Clan Origin Myth, The Man Whose Wife was Captured, Bladder and His Brothers, The Boy who was Captured by the Bad Thunderbirds, Bluehorn Rescues His Sister, The Boy who was Blessed by a Mountain Lion, The Green Man, Brave Man, The Chief of the Heroka, Šųgepaga, Hare Gets Swallowed, Hare Acquires His Arrows, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, Wolves and Humans, The Woman Who Became an Ant, Thunderbird and White Horse, Heną́ga and the Star Girl, Brass and Red Bear Boy, Traveler and the Thunderbird War (v. 5), Testing the Slavee; a prisoner escapes by killing (some of) his captor(s): Wears White Feather on His Head, Įčorúšika and His Brothers, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird and White Horse, Hare Gets Swallowed, The Raccoon Coat, Wojijé, The Captive Boys; wearing the skin of a spirit bird: Holy One and His Brother, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Lost Blanket; a man under risk to his life states the proverb that he is already dead: Testing the Slave.
1 John Michael StCyr, [untitled], in Paul Radin, Winnebago Notebooks, Notebook #19 (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1909?) Story III: 33-39.
2 Earnest Gouge, "The Hunter Captured by an Eagle," from Totkv Mocvse: New Fire, The Creek Folktales of Earnest Gouge, translated by Margaret McKane Mauldin and Juanita McGirt, edited by Jack B. Martin and Margaret McKane Mauldin (August, 2002), Story 23: 95-98. Original texts taken from Earnest Gouge, Creek texts, with English titles and occasional English translations by John R. Swanton (Washington, D. C.: Smithsonian Institution, National Anthropological Archives, 1906-1930) Manuscript 4930.