(A Shawnee Indian Legend)
Long ago, there was a young man named White Hawk who always returned home from his hunt with an abundant stock. He was the most skilled hunter in his tribe. He boasted that he did not fear even the darkest edges of the forest. He claimed there wasn’t a single track he could not follow, not a birdcall he didn’t understand.
One day, he walked so deep into the forest that he reached a spot no one in his tribe had visited. He was at the edge of a great plain, and he walked on. After a long while, he came to a place where a circle was carved into the grass. But there were no footsteps leading to or from the circle. White Hawk was curious, and he decided to hide and wait to see who had made the circle. He thought it must be magical birds.
Sure enough, just before sunset, he heard music drifting from the sky. He looked up expecting birds, but for a long time he saw nothing. Then he noticed a speck moving closer, and soon he saw that speck was a basket holding 12 beautiful maidens, all sisters.
He could not believe his eyes — they were lovelier than anyone he had ever seen. He watched as the basket touched the ground, and the women leaped into the ring and began to dance around the circle. White Hawk was mesmerized, especially by the youngest maiden.
After many hours, he could no longer resist trying to approach her. He rushed from his hiding place and reached out to her, but as he did, the sisters leaped into the basket and floated back into the sky.
White Hawk slowly made the long journey home, but for days after that, he could not stop thinking of what he had seen. No longer did he enjoy the hunt. No longer did he tell stories to his fellow hunters or flirt with the women. He could think only of those women in the basket.
He decided he must return. This time he disguised himself in the form of a possum, so the maidens would not notice him. When the basket returned to Earth, and the sisters leaped out and began to dance, he sat and stared. In his disguise, he crept closer. But once again, when he reached the ring, the sisters saw him, leaped into the basket and began to float away.
He heard them speaking to each other. “Maybe he only wants to learn our games,” one of the sisters said, but the others disagreed and insisted they must leave, and so the basket drifted into the sky.
White Hawk returned to his own form and walked home, but the next day he returned, and as he sat waiting and thinking, he noticed a number of mice running near a tree stump. He carried the stump near to the ring and turned himself into a mouse.
When the sisters appeared, one of them noticed the stump. “That wasn’t here yesterday,” she said, and she began to race toward the basket. But the others were curious, and so they gathered around the stump and began to tap upon it. When they did, the mice ran out, and one of those mice was White Hawk.
The sisters began to beat the mice with their sticks. Just as he was about to be struck, White Hawk turned back into himself and reached out again for the youngest sister.
The others raced away, and the basket rose into the sky.
But White Hawk’s beloved did not get away, and as he professed his love for her, she agreed she would stay with him. He was handsome, and he was kind, and although she could not imagine life on Earth, she finally agreed to be his bride.
Never had anyone seen a man so happy as the day White Hawk and his bride returned to his lodge. The young maiden learned to love her husband, and the seasons passed. Then, in summer, she gave birth to a beautiful boy.
She loved her new family, but she always knew she was one of the stars. Some nights she wept with longing for her old home in the sky. One day when White Hawk was away hunting, she began to make a wicker basket much like the one she and her sisters had.
When she had finished her basket, she began to collect special gifts that might please her father — foods and rocks, plants and gems. One day when her husband was away, she carried her son in the basket all the way to the great plain. There she placed the basket in the center of the ring and climbed in. She began to sing, and the basket began to rise.
Suddenly, from deep in the forest, White Hawk heard his wife’s voice, and he ran toward the ring, but he was too late. He saw them as they ascended into the sky, so far away he could barely see them. He lay down and wept.
Time passed, and in that time, White Hawk could not eat or sleep. All his joy was gone. Then one day, he heard his wife’s voice again, and he ran as fast as he could to the enchanted circle. There, he watched as his wife and son drifted back to Earth. Almost before they touched down, he was there — embracing them.
“My father sent me,” she said. “He says if you bring one of each kind of bird and animal, you may live with us in the sky.”
White Hawk did not wait. He began to hunt, searching for every kind of bird and animal he could find. He collected their tails and wings, and when he had collected them all, he and his wife and child floated up to the sky.
The Star Chief invited everyone to admire the gifts of Earth, and White Hawk offered up his gifts. Some star people chose a wing; some chose a tail. The star people who chose a tail became animals and ran away. The others became birds and flew away.
White Hawk chose the feathers of a white hawk, one for his wife, one for his son. They turned into white hawks and descended back to Earth where they lived together in harmony, lovers of land and sky.