Signal Bird

Kate Farrell (author of Story Power) looks to this Choctaw folktale for hope and guidance during the hurricane season.

Luksi, Choctaw Nation Totem

The Choctaw people loved nature and lived close to it. They observed carefully the happenings that occurred before weather changes. Their understanding was attributed to Great Spirit’s teachings.

The little Luksi or terrapin lives near the water, but he cannot live in it. He knows days ahead if there is to be a flood and moves to high ground. When the Indians see the terrapin moving, they know they must move too.

The Indians say saw grass, one of the sedges, blooms every hundred years unless a wind and rainstorm is coming. The terrapin does not like the odor of the blossoms, so as soon as the blooming begins; he moves to higher land where there is no grass. The blossoms and the moving terrapin tell the Indians of the approaching storm.

They say if the wind blows from the east for three consecutive days, rain will fall.

At times when rain is needed, the Indians may try to bring rain. If a snake can be found, it is killed and left with its stomach up to the sun. This will surely bring rain.

The Indians call the redheaded woodpecker the signal bird. If it pecks on the house or a tree near the house that is a signal danger is near and they must use precaution. Should a signal bird fly in front of one who has started on a trip, he knows danger lies ahead and he should return home.

When Josephine was little, she lived with her grandmother. She was always happy when she could go to see her mother. One morning soon after they had started, the signal bird flew in front of them.

“No, no! We must not go on. There is danger!” suddenly cried the grandmother.

“But we have just started! Why must we go back?” asked Josephine.

“Didn’t you see the signal bird fly in front of us? We must not go on!”

“I want to see my mother. I do not want to stay!” protested Josephine.
“We cannot ignore the bird’s warning,” her grandmother said firmly.

Josephine was so angry, when she got home, she took the blowgun her grandfather used to kill birds and went out to find the signal bird. Soon she saw him and blew an arrow at him. It caught his wing and he fluttered to the ground. Josephine ran and picked him up.

After she removed the arrow, she held him so he could not get away. She took him to her grandmother.

“Here, Grandmother, is the signal bird that flew in front of us,” she said as she opened her hands.

“Oh, Josephine, why did you do this?” scolded her grandmother when she saw the dead bird.

“I did not mean to kill him, but I am not sorry,” she said stubbornly.

“He was warning us of danger. You should not have killed him!”

“He would not let me see my mother! I did not like him!”

At that moment her grandfather came in to the house. “The river is up; you do not go today! It is so swift you could not cross,” he explained.

“Do you understand now, Josephine? We might have been drowned if the signal bird had not stopped us.”

Josephine could say nothing but a tear rolled down her cheek.



Note: May we heed the signals of all nature, with thoughts of safety for those in Hurricane Ida’s path, the home of the Choctaw Nation.

Story Power by Kate Farrell

Story power

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