In a short fall before a long winter, there was a Red Buffalo Woman who came up lame. Day after day she pushed herself to keep pace with her herd, growing weaker with every step, so that by the time they reached the great river, she had lost most of her strength. With too much exhaustion to pay mind to her steps, she misplaced her hind leg, sinking past the hock in a deep mud hole along the river bank. She struggled to free herself with no result, and eventually her herd was forced to move on, leaving her behind.
The Red Buffalo Woman collapsed to her knees and waited helplessly for the predators to come and pick her carcass bare. But before the wolves and the coyotes could draw near, a man came upon her. Feeling sorry for the red buffalo woman, he dug her from the mud hole and brought her home with him, and because he had many motherless children, he invited her to stay with him as his wife. The Buffalo Woman was very happy and worked hard to care for the man’s own mother and his children.
However, soon she discovered that the man was lazy and did not like to hunt. As winter came on, his children grew thin and sick. One day, the man’s mother came to the Buffalo Woman. “You can see that my grandchildren are starving, but you are so big and fat. Could you not spare just a little for us? Just something for the pot?”
The Red Buffalo Woman loved her family and could not refuse them. “Of course,” she told her mother-in-law, “take what you need.” And so it went on day after day that the old woman and her son carved the meat from her bones. She did not complain, because they reminded her each time that she should have died on the river bank, and the gift of her flesh was a small price to pay for the warmth of their fire and their company.
It was a long winter that stretched past its moons, but like all winters, it finally yielded to spring. But as the buds peeked from the trees and the birds filled the skies with their songs again, the red buffalo woman found she was nothing but bones and hide. “You are no longer of any use to us,” her husband told her, and taking that hide from her, he and his family left her and set out for their spring camp.
The Red Buffalo Woman laid down on the damp earth, twice abandoned, with nothing left of herself but her bones and her tears. The grass grew up through her rib cage and all around her skeleton, but she did not move.
A passing Eagle happened to fly over head and looking down saw the Red Buffalo Woman who mourned her own imminent death. “Why are you crying?” he asked, swooping down to perch on her skull.
“When I became lame and stuck, my herd left me to die. But I was found by a man, and I learned to love that man and his family so much I let them strip me completely, but then they had no more use for me, and left me also. Now, I have nothing left to offer the world. I have nothing to give and it is better I die.”
“Nothing?” asked the Eagle, snapping one of her femur bones. “This marrow is delicious. The very best I have ever had.” When the Eagle was done his feast and had sucked her dry, he gathered the empty bones of the red buffalo woman into his talons, lifted her high into the air, and released her above a steep cliff.
“Why have you done this to me?” she cried. “First you have sucked the marrow from my bones, and now you have dropped me to my death!”
“No,” said the Eagle, “I hollowed your bones to make them lighter, and I have uplifted you so you could fly.”
The red buffalo woman was rapidly approaching the rocks below and knew they would smash her to dust. “I will die!” she screamed.
“You will fly!” assured the Eagle.
Just then the wind whistled through the hollow bones of the Red Buffalo Woman, tickling the insides of them. As she shook her frame in response, great plumes of feathers sprouted from her shoulders and her back, and sharp claws sprung from the shards of her broken femur. She gave a thunderous flap of her enormous new wings, just as a solar wind grazed the underside of her belly, and rose up high above the clouds and all the creatures of the Earth, reborn in flight.