Legends of the West

by Kirsten Holm

A collection of Colorado archive photos with depictions of animals crucial to the folklore of the native peoples who once inhabited, and continue to live in this state. Each photo includes a retelling of the folklore associated with the animal.

Made With Archival Photos from Boulder Public Library and Denver Public Library

The Grouse
In Cherokee mythology, the Grouse is a symbol of motherhood, having a large brood of young. It is considered taboo for a pregnant woman to eat a Grouse and it is said if she does she is certain to miscarry.

The Eagle
A Cherokee legend tells the tale of an Eagle that was shot down by a hunter. That night the hunter and his friends sat around a fire when suddenly the corpse of seven rattlesnakes dropped onto the ground in front of them. As each one fell a terrible scream cut through the night, the hunter and his friends were terrified. It was then that the hunter learned it was the voice of the brother of the Eagle he killed, seeking vengeance for his kin.


The Wolf
An Arapaho legend tells the tale of a Wolf who wanted to become a man. Every night of the full moon the Wolf would cry out in the darkness, singing a song of his desire to become a human. To this day this song is unanswered.

The Bison
According to a Cheyenne myth, the Bison was once in a race with the magpie and the hawk. The Bison used to be a terrible monster that would eat people, and the magpie and hawk wanted to end this bloodshed. The Bison almost won the race but before the end the hawk and magpie worked together to swoop over the finish line. It was  said that because the Bison lost he would henceforth be hunted by man. The Cheyenne wear magpie and hawk feathers in their honor.


The Owl
In Apache mythos, the Owl has a similar role as the "bogeyman". It is said to be able to shapeshift into a large, horned man that can easily take children away into the night. Its large talons are perfect for such kidnappings.


The Bat
In an Apache legend, the coyote was once in search of a wife. The Bat told the coyote that the hawk would make a fine wife. The hawk, greatly offended, took the Bat and hung him upside-down on a juniper by his long, pointy-toed moccasins. To this day the Bat still hangs upside-down to placate the rage of the hawk.


The Snake
In Arapaho legend there is a gigantic, terrifying snake known as Hiintcabiit. This snake dwelled in the rivers of Colorado and would snatch away any unsuspecting children who would wander into its domain. However, if one was respectful to the Snake and gave him offerings, good luck would be sure to follow
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The Coyote
In Navajo folklore, the Coyote is a trickster. He often comes into contact with man and deceives them. So, often, they are hunted and their skins are used as trophies for honest men. However, the Coyote is always reborn, and always returns to make more mischief for mankind.

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