Friday, May 6, 2011

Chief Red Bird

A mythical red bird figures large in the creation legends of the Cherokee ancestors of the Cumberland Plateau. One finds the title Red Bird somewhat frequently in the area of southeast Kentucky where we lived for a year. The Red Bird River (small sized by most standards, but a river nontheless) flows northward to join many other creeks & rivulets feeding the Kentucky River. Its source in the mountains around us were countless springs & streams burbling up from the mountain rock, enlarged throughout the year by snow & rain. The region drained by this river became known as the Red Bird Valley, a beautiful area lying mostly north & south & covering the rural counties of Clay, Bell, and Leslie. Chief Red Bird was a Cherokee leader friendly to local white populations until he was murdered & his body thrown into the local river. I was never entirely comfortable with that bit of local history. It told me that under the beauty of these mountains laid the story of a betrayal, a murder, & the transformation of a river into a grave. Sometimes I remembered that as I listened to the sounds of the Red Bird River flowing behind our house.

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