Myths and legends

   Before the days of science people in many different parts of the world made up stories to explain the world as they saw it. They told stories to explain why the seasons change, why birds migrate, why robins have red breasts, why each group of stars is in the sky, and many, many other such things. Stories of this kind are called myths. They are not true. But they show that the people who made them up were really trying to understand the world around them.

   There are many Indian myths about nature. The next is a myth told by the Ojibway Indians. Ojeeb Annung, so the myth says, was a famous hunter. He had the power of changing himself into a fisher, an animal of the forest, whenever he wished.

   The hunter's son also wanted to be a great hunter, but the land where he lived was too cold much of the time. The boy's hands were so cold that he could not fit his arrows into his bow. He begged his father to make summer come. His father promised, although he knew it would be hard.

   The hunter climbed to the top of a tall mountain. With him went his friends the otter, the beaver, the lynx, the badger, and the wolverine. At the top of the mountain each animal tried to jump high enough to break a hole in the sky. The wolverine finally succeeded. The hunter and the wolverine climbed up through the hole. There they found a land of flowers and birds and summer weather. The sky people were nowhere to be seen. In some of their lodges there were many cages of birds. The hunter knew that, if he released these birds, they would fly through the hole in the sky and carry summer to the earth.

   He and the wolverine went about opening cages. The birds flew out and down to earth. They made such a noise that the sky people heard it from far away and hurried to close the hole in the sky. Ojeeb Annung changed himself into a fisher, but the sky people shot him with their arrows. They stretched him out in the sky, where he can be seen to this day as the constellation known now as the Great Bear.

In this myth the Indians explained what brings summer. They explained, too, why the Great Bear is in the sky.

   Not all myths are about nature. Many myths are about gods and goddesses. They are closely tied up with the religion of the people who first told them. Many people of today know the names of the Greek, Roman, and Norse gods and goddesses because they have read myths about them.

   Peoples all over the world have told wonderful stories of their past. They have invented great heroes and made them do marvelous deeds. The stories have been handed down from generation to generation. Such stories are called legends.

   Many legends have some truth in them. Perhaps some have a great deal, but many of them come from so far back in the past that no one can be sure. The stories of Roland, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and William Tell are well-known legends.

   Paul Bunyan is one of the legendary heroes of America. Why aren't there more trees in the Dakotas? Paul Bunyan, the legends say, knocked them all down in a fight. Why is Kansas flat? Paul Bunyan and his blue ox, Babe, leveled it to make corn planting easy. What gave the Grand Canyon its beautiful colors? Paul Bunyan painted it. Who made the Great Lakes? Paul Bunyan did, so that Babe would have plenty of water to drink.
There really was a French Canadian logger named Paul Bunyon. Stories of his strength came to American lumberjacks. They took him for their hero and began making up tall tales about him. They changed the o in his name to an a. At Bemidji, Minn., there is a huge statue of Paul Bunyan. Beside it is a statue of Babe.