How the Golden Eagle Got Its Golden Hackles

A Short Story by Stephanie Streeter

Neekahna, a venerated warrior and elder statesman of his Indian tribe knew the time of his death was near. Soon his spirit would join those of his ancestors in the Next World. The old Indian’s body was growing weak and frail; no longer could he hunt the buffalo or join in battles against hostile tribes.

Neekahna took long, solitary walks in the windswept plains of his home. He was afraid that his spirit was weak as his failing body and would not be able to make the journey to join his ancestors. During his walks he communed with Mother Earth in order to learn how he could make his spirit strong enough for its safe passage to the Next World.

For days Neekahna walked the plains, growing weaker with every step and still he did not have an answer. In despair the old warrior sat down at the base of a cliff and lowered his head upon his knees. All was silent and still around the weary Indian. Suddenly a great sound of thunder filled the air. Startled, Neekahna lifted his head and watched, with much surprise, a large brown bird, an eagle, alight on an outcropping ten feet from where he sat. Even more to the Indian’s astonishment, the great eagle began to speak to him in his own language.

Said the eagle, “For days I have watched you walk the plains and climb the cliffs. Mother earth has told me of your trials. Because you treat Mother Earth with respect and do not hurt the eagles of the air I will guide your spirit on its journey to the land of your elders.”

Neekahna’s tired eyes met and held the eagle’s penetrating gaze as he replied, “I thank you great eagle of the sky. My mind is at peace and my spirit is ready. Come, let us go to the top of this cliff where I can give thanks to Mother Earth, then lay my body down and release my spirit into your safe keeping.”

The eagle took to the air and effortlessly flew to the top of the cliff. The old warrior slowly made his way, on hand and foot, to the eagle’s side. While the eagle looked on, Neekahna performed his sacred ceremonies. When he was finished he lay down and for the last time looked deep into the eagle’s dark eyes.

He said, “I am ready my friend. When I close my eyes my spirit will pass to you for its final journey.”

As Neekahna’s eyelids lowered, the great eagle spread his wings and hovered above the Indian’s body. Ever so gently, the mighty bird reached out his lethal talons to receive the dead warrior’s spirit. With powerful wing strokes the eagle swiftly bore Neekahna’s spirit into the sky above. Their journey to the Next World had begun. High in the sky the eagle and the spirit he guided approached the sun. As they drew closer the sun spoke to the eagle.

Mother Sun said, “Great eagle, I am pleased with your deed. Guiding Neekahna’s spirit to the land of his ancestors is worthy of reward. Because you have performed this selfless act I will bestow a mark of honor upon you. From this day forward all the tribes on Mother Earth’s vast lands will hold you and your kind in great esteem.”

As the eagle glided past Mother Sun she shot a beautiful, brilliant beam of light upon the eagle’s neck, bathing it in a golden glow. And to this day the eagle wears the gold of Mother Sun upon his neck to mark him as the Indian spirit guide, the great golden eagle.