One winter, a long time ago, an Indian village called Taos was all covered with deep, deep snow. The Indians could not find any flint stones to make a fire with. They shut themselves up in their houses and were almost freezing to death; when one day a little brown robin with a brown breast came flying over the village. He was so cold that he fell in the plaza. The plaza is a big square place in the center of the village, where there are not any houses nor any trees.
A bear came along. “Pretty soon the Indians will all die from the cold and I’ll be ruler of all this country,” said the bear.
“Not if I can help it,” replied the robin. “I will save the Indians even if it takes my life.”
So the little robin flew away to the south. He found another Indian village where they had a big fire burning in the plaza. The robin picked up a piece of burning stick and flew back to Taos with it. He guarded the little flame from the wind by stretching his wing over it. When he reached Taos, he scratched a hole in the snow with his feet, and put the burning stick into the hole. Then he flew away and brought some twigs to put on it. Very soon the twigs began to burn and Robin flew away for more. While he was gone the bear came and blew his breath on the fire. He wanted to put it out so the Indians would freeze. And the fire did go out all but a few little sparks.
When Robin came with the twigs he had to fan the sparks with his wings to make the fire burn again. “Burn, fire, burn for the freezing Indians!”
The fire burned and Robin flew away for more twigs.
As soon as Robin left, the bear came and blew his breath twice on the fire. The fire almost went out again, and when Robin came back, he had to fan and fan and fan it with his wing to make the little twigs catch fire and burn.
The third time Robin flew away for more twigs, the bear came and blew his breath three times on the fire. This time the fire all went out except just one very tiny little spark; and the bear said, “Now I’ll be ruler of this country.”
But when the robin came back with his twigs, he fanned and fanned that little spark with his wings. For a long time the little spark would not blaze. But Robin kept fanning and begging, “Please, fire, burn for the Indians.” All the time he was fanning, the fire was burning his breast; but he kept on fanning until the fire did burn, and burned too big for the bear to blow out.
The Indians saw a red light through their peephole windows. They looked out and saw the fire with Robin still fanning it with his wing. Then the freezing Indians all ran out; each took a piece of burning wood into his house and made a nice warm fire inside.
Nobody thought of Robin – poor little tired Robin – except an old, old woman, who was tired, too. She picked up the tired little bird and carried him into her house. She put him by her fire to warm him; but it was too late. Tired little Robin was dead. The old woman picked him up and found that his breast had burned red. And since that time all the robins’ breasts are red.
Author Note: Taos Pueblo