The Baldness of the Buzzard
retold by Richard L. Dieterle
In his travels about the world, Trickster climbed up a hill and when he reached the top, he laid down to rest. As he was looking up, he saw a bird floating effortlessly in the sky. Trickster thought to himself how nice it would be to have a view of the whole countryside like the bird's. Just as Trickster was looking at the bird, so it was looking at Trickster. It thought that he was an animal that might make a good meal, so he circled down a bit lower. As soon as he got a closer look, he could see that he was being watched, so he floated down to a dead tree with only a few branches. As the bird perched there, he thought to himself, "I'll preen a few of these feathers and let the man enjoy my natural beauty." This bird was a buzzard.
In those times buzzards were very beautiful and also very vain. As Trickster laid there watching him, he said, "Hąho, little brother. I was watching you circling above. It sure must be great to fly around with no effort at all." However, the bird said nothing at all back to Trickster. Then Trickster said,"Did I ever say how beautiful a bird you are?" "No," replied the buzzard. "Well, you really are, you know. I like the way that the light shines from your feathers when you turn your head. But what I like best is the way you can have a view of the whole world from where you are flying. I only wish you could give me a ride so that I too could enjoy it." The bird said, "I can probably do that," but when he reached Trickster, he said, "You're way too heavy. If I put you on my back, I would never get off the ground." "Well," said Trickster, "I can fix that." Then Trickster thought to himself, "I'll become just the right size to ride on that bird's back," and no sooner had he thought this, than he suddenly shrunk in size so that he was no bigger than a baby. Then he climbed up on the buzzard's back and hung on tight.
The bird flapped his wings and soon they were airborne. He circled around until he hit an updraft, then suddenly he sailed away high into the sky. Trickster exclaimed, "Ah, little brother, this is truly the life. There is nothing like this, to be able to see all over. You really have a great life gliding around up here." Now the buzzard thought Trickster just wanted a short ride, but nothing could make him return. Now Trickster kept telling the buzzard to fly here or fly there, and was starting to make a nuisance out of himself by his constant demands. Suddenly, the buzzard made a steep turn, and Trickster cried out, "Whoa, watch that or I'll fall off!" This gave the buzzard an idea. He circled around and around gradually descending as he went. He was looking for a hollow stump that he had seen earlier. After much searching, there it was. He flew directly over it, then he suddenly performed a mid-air flip, and Trickster fell right off. The buzzard's aim was perfect and Trickster landed right in the hollow of the stump. Thus stump had been burned out, and the hole was small enough that Trickster couldn't get back out again. Trickster was furious, and called the bird every bad name he could think of. Then he said, for good measure, "I'll get even with you someday" However, the buzzard simply ignored him and flew away.
After all that time traveling about the world, now Trickster was a prisoner. Then Trickster decided to restore himself to his normal size, but when he did that, he found himself stuck even tighter than before. Then he heard the voices of women out gathering wood. They were speaking to one another in Hočąk. This gave Trickster an idea, and he sung out,
which means, "I am a big mother raccoon." The woman exclaimed, "Wehehe! There is something over there. They went over to where they heard the singing. Then Trickster sand again in a bass voice,
The women said, "Let's get this raccoon, and they began to chop away at the tree. When they had cut an opening through it, Trickster held up his raccoon blanket, and the women exclaimed, "That's a big fat one!" Then Trickster said, "Yes indeed, I am a really big one. Now, you're going to have to chop the hole much bigger to get me out." After the women had chopped away furiously at the stump, the hole was now so big that Trickster stepped right out. He dropped his blanket and laughed. The women were so angry at him that they chased him with their axes, but he made good his escape.
No matter where Trickster went in his travels, he never ceased thinking about avenging himself against the buzzard. He contemplated many schemes, but nothing seemed to work. Then one day when he was watching a herd of buffalo, he suddenly got a brilliant idea: "Now then," he said, "I'll become a buffalo and drop over dead. That will give the buzzard just what he wants most, a really big meal of carrion."
So Trickster turned himself into a buffalo and spent his days grazing on the luxuriant grass, and in time became very fat. Then he laid down and died. There he lay in the hot sun, rotting. Some time later a čosgenįka bird (woolly? woodpecker) spotted the buffalo rotting in the grass. This bird is a very noisy one, and when he returned to the woods, he called out to all the meat eating birds that there was a fine, big meal going to waste in the meadow. A great group of birds descended on the corpse and began pecking it all over, but its hide was so tough that none of the birds could penetrate it. Trickster shut his eyes so tight that they couldn't even pick his eyes out. Finally, they called upon the magpie, who was a large bird with a sharp beak. The told him to peck a hole right through the hide. The magpie hammered away for a long time, but could get nowhere. Then he said, "Let me do this my way. The best way to get into a tough animal is to enter through its anus." So he began pecking away at the buffalo's anus, and soon he had made an entry. Then the other birds went in as well, and flew off with bits of fat. Eventually, the news reached the buzzard who flew down to a nearby tree. He was wary of what Trickster might be up to, and was on his guard against any tricks that might be in the offing; but the other birds kept saying, "Brother, come on down, we are getting to the best part now." So finally the buzzard descended, thinking that he had better get some now before there was nothing good left. The other birds said, "We found this way in, right through his anus. We saved it for you, the most beautiful of birds, brother." So the buzzard stuck his head deep into the rectum of the buffalo. Then, unexpectedly, the anus tightened around his neck and his head was trapped inside. Then suddenly the buffalo rose to his feet and began eating grass. After that he went down and drank a lot of water, after which he resumed eating enormous amounts of lush, green grass, the kind that makes strong, hot buffalo chips. After a day of this, he finally relaxed his anus and let the bird go. As the bird lay there in shock, Trickster changed himself back into his normal form. "Well now, you beautiful bird, how did you like the dinner I served up to you?" When the bird came to his senses and saw Trickster standing before him, his worst fears were realized, and he flew up to the nearest tree. There he shook himself off, but must to his surprise, all the feathers on his head fell off as he shook. Then Trickster said, "Because you have abused me, forevermore your kind shall have bald heads, and no longer will the people say you are the most beautiful of birds, for in truth you will now be the ugliest." Even down to this day turkey buzzards have no feathers on their head.1
Comparative Material. The following is an Ioway version of this story. "One day Ictinike, foot sore and weary, encountered a buzzard, which he asked to oblige him by carrying him on its back part of the way. The crafty bird immediately consented, and, seating Ictinike between its wings, flew off with him. They had not gone far when they passed above a hollow tree, and Ictinike began to shift uneasily in his seat as he observed the buzzard hovering over it. He requested the bird to fly onward, but for answer it cast him headlong into the tree trunk, where he found himself a prisoner. For a long time he lay there in want and wretchedness, until at last a large hunting-party struck camp at the spot. Ictinike chanced to be wearing some raccoon skins, and he thrust the tails of these through the cracks in the tree. Three women who were standing near imagined that a number of raccoons had become imprisoned in the hollow trunk, and they made a large hole in it for the purpose of capturing them. Ictinike at once emerged, whereupon the women fled. Ictinike lay on the ground pretending to be dead, and as he was covered with the racoon-skins the birds of prey, the eagle, the rook, and the magpie, came to devour him. While they pecked at him the buzzard made his appearance for the purpose of joining in the feast, but Ictinike, rising quickly, tore the feathers from its scalp. That is why the buzzard has no feathers in its head."2
Links: Trickster, Bird Spirits, Raccoons.
Stories: featuring Trickster as a character: The Trickster Cycle, Trickster Soils the Princess, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, Trickster, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Meadow Lark, Lake Winnebago Origin Myth, The Markings on the Moon, The Woman who Became an Ant, The Spirit of Gambling, The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth, The Red Man, Waruǧápara; mentioning buzzards (vultures): Trickster's Tail, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster; about Bird Spirits: Crane and His Brothers, The King Bird, Bird Origin Myth, Bird Clan 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, Owl Goes Hunting, 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 (kaǧi, woodpeckers, hawks), Porcupine and His Brothers (Ocean Sucker), Turtle's Warparty (Thunderbirds, eagles, kaǧi, pelicans, sparrows), Kaǧiga and Lone Man (kaǧi), The Old Man and the Giants (kaǧi, bluebirds), The Bungling Host (snipe, woodpecker), The Red Feather, 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, Keramaniš’aka's Blessing (black hawk, owl), Heną́ga and Star Girl (black hawk), Worúxega (eagle), The Arrows of the Medicine Rite Men (eagle), The Gift of Shooting (eagle), Hočąk Clans Origin Myth, Hawk Clan Origin Myth, The Hočąk Migration Myth, Blue Jay, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster (buzzards), The Shaggy Man (kaǧi), The Healing Blessing (kaǧi), The Medicine Rite Foundation Myth (kaǧi), 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 Fleetfooted Man, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 4) — see also Thunderbirds; mentioning raccoons: Trickster and the Mothers, The Raccoon Coat, Raccoon and the Blind Men, The Spirit of Maple Bluff, The Were-fish, Lake Wąkšikhomįgra (Mendota): the Origin of Its Name, Bladder and His Brothers, Grandfather's Two Families; mentioning trees or Tree Spirits: The Creation of the World, The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Children of the Sun, Visit of the Wood Spirit, The Boy who would be Immortal, The Commandments of Earthmaker, The Woman who Became a Walnut Tree, The Old Woman and the Maple Tree Spirit, The Oak Tree and the Man Who was Blessed by the Heroka, The Pointing Man, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, Trickster Loses His Meal, The Journey to Spiritland (v. 2), Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth, Waruǧápara, The Chief of the Heroka, The Red Man, The Shell Anklets Origin Myth, The Annihilation of the Hočągara I, Baldheaded Warclub Origin Myth, The Blessing of the Bow, Pete Dupeé and the Ghosts, The Spirit of Gambling, Peace of Mind Regained, The Necessity for Death.
"The Baldness of the Buzzard" is a version of two stories of the Trickster Cycle, "§8. The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster," and "§9. Trickster's Tail."
Themes: vanity: The Skunk Origin Myth, The Blue Jay; birds grant someone's wish to fly like them: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, Trickster and the Geese; being carried (off) by a bird: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, Thunderbird and White Horse, The Boy who Flew, Hare Acquires His Arrows, Thunderbird Clan Origin Myth (v. 1), Heną́ga and Star Girl, The Old Man and the Giants; someone falls from the sky while trying to fly with the birds: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, Trickster and the Geese, Trickster and the Eagle; Trickster is the victim of a trick: Trickster Soils the Princess, The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, Trickster's Anus Guards the Ducks, Trickster Eats the Laxative Bulb, The Elk's Skull, A Mink Tricks Trickster, Trickster and the Honey, The Markings on the Moon, Trickster and the Eagle; possessing a raccoon blanket: The Abduction and Rescue of Trickster, The Raccoon Coat; a great spirit changes his form in order to deceive someone: The Skunk Origin Myth (Turtle), The Twins Retrieve Red Star's Head, The Man with Two Heads, The Children of the Sun, Trickster's Tail, Trickster Gets Pregnant, The Elks Skull, Trickster Soils the Princess, Old Man and Wears White Feather, The Seven Maidens; someone sticks his head into an oriface of a dead animal, and it tightens around his neck: Trickster's Tail, The Elk's Skull.
1 Kathleen Danker and Felix White, Sr., The Hollow of Echoes (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1978) 12-17. Informant: Felix White, Sr.
2 Lewis Spence, Myths of the North American Indians (London: George G. Harrap & Company, 1916) 268.