Updated: Jan 15
The Legend of the Prairie Rose
There was a time when the world was young and untouched by humanity.
Flowers did not bloom on the prairie. Only grasses and dull greenish gray shrubs grew there.
Earth felt very sad because her robe lacked brightness and beauty.
"I have many beautiful flowers in my heart," Earth said to herself. ”I wish they were on my robe. Blue flowers like the clear sky in fair weather, white flowers like the snow of winter, brilliant yellow ones like the sun at midday, pink ones like the dawn of a springs day ... all these are in my heart. I am sad when I look on my dull robe, all gray and brown."
A sweet little pink flower heard Earth's sad talking. "Do not be sad, Mother Earth, I will go upon your robe and beautify it."
So the little pink flower came up from the heart of the Mother Earth to beautify the prairies.
But when the Wind Demon saw her, he growled, "I will not have that pretty flower on my playground."
He rushed at her, shouting and roaring, and blew out her life. But her spirit returned to the heart of Mother Earth.
When other flowers gained courage to go forth, one after another, Wind Demon killed them also ... and their spirit returned to the heart of Mother Earth.
At last, Prairie Rose offered to go.
"Yes, sweet child," said Mother Earth, "I will let you go. You are very lovely and your breath so fragrant that surely the Wind Demon will be charmed by you. Surely he will let you stay on the prairie."
So Prairie Rose made the long journey up the dark ground and came out on the drab prairie. As she went, Mother Earth said in her heart. “Oh, I do hope that Wind Demon will let her live."
When Wind Demon saw her, he rushed toward her shouting, "She is pretty, but I will not allow her on my playground. I will blow out her life."
So he rushed on, roaring and drawing his breath in strong gusts. As he came closer, he caught the fragrance of Prairie Rose.
He said to himself, "Oh, how sweet! I do not have it in my heart to blow out the life of such a beautiful maiden with so sweet a breath. She must stay here with me. I must make my voice gentle, and I must sing sweet songs. I must not frighten her away with my awful noise."
So, Wind Demon changed. He became quiet. He sent breezes over the prairie grasses. He whispered and hummed little songs of gladness. He was no longer a demon.
The other flowers came up from the heart of the Mother Earth, up through the dark ground. They made her robe the prairie, bright and joyous. Even Wind came to love the blossoms growing among the grasses of the prairie.
And so the robe of Mother Earth became beautiful because of the loveliness, the sweetness and the courage of the Prairie Rose.
Sometimes, Wind forgets his gentle songs and becomes loud and noisy, but his loudness does not last long. And, he does not harm a person whose robe is the color of Prairie Rose.
This traditional Lakota story has been passed down for thousands of years. Like so many other stories, this story was used to teach lessons, explain the past and entertain.
Unfortunately, there are no records of origin or teller. From Akta Lakota Museum and Cultural Center. http://aktalakota.stjo.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=8848
Native American Wild Rose Mythology
To Native Americans in many western tribes, wild roses were a symbol of life. Paiute, Nez Perce, and Interior Salish people believed that wild roses kept ghosts from causing harm to the living, so they were often placed in the homes or clothing of people who were in mourning or felt haunted. Wild roses were also sometimes attached to cradleboards to bring vitality to infants. In some tribes, rose motifs were used in quillwork, beadwork, or other Native arts to represent survival and vitality as well. Wild roses also played a role in traditional Native American herbal medicine, and rosehips (the fruit of wild roses) were eaten as food in many tribes, either directly or as part of a pudding.
Native American Legends About Wild Roses
Indian Rose Story: Anishinabe legend about the importance of treating plants with respect. Why Wild Roses Have Thorns: Saulteaux Ojibwe legend about Nanaboozhoo teaching roses to defend themselves. Wild Roses, Hips and Haws: Article by an Ojibwe author on the tribal importance of rosehips and the wild rose.
Song of the Seven Herbs: Retellings of several tales about the wild rose and other North American herbs and flowers. Native Plant Stories: Excellent collection of Native American folklore about plant spirits, by Abenaki storyteller Joseph Bruchac. Native American Ethnobotany: Comprehensive book on the names and traditional uses of flowers and other plants throughout Native North America.
The Primacy of Plants: An Ojibwa Legend
Roses were once the most numerous and brilliantly colored of all the flowers. Such were their numbers and such were the variety and richness of their shades that they were common. No one paid much attention to them; their beauty went unnoticed, their glory unsung. Even when their numbers declined and their colors faded, no one appeared to care. Cycles of scarcity and plenty had occurred. There was no cause for alarm. There is degeneration and regeneration. Plenty always follows scarcity.
But year by year after year roses became fewer in number. As the numbers and richness of the flowers diminished, the fatness of the rabbits increased. Only the bear, and the bee, and the hummingbird were aware that something was wrong.
The Anishinaabeg felt that something was not quite right but they couldn’t explain it. They only knew that the bear was thinner and that the bear’s flesh was less sweet than formerly. The bears found smaller quantities of honey and what they found was not delectable. The bees and humming-birds found fewer roses. Th Anishnaabeg were bewildered; the bears blamed the bees; the bees were alarmed. But no one could do anything.
Eventually, one summer there were no roses. Bees hungered; humming-birds grew thin; the bears raged. In later years, that summer was known as the Summer of the Disappearance of the Rose. At last, everyone was alarmed. In desperation, a great meeting was called. Everyone was invited.
There were many days of discussion before the meeting decided to dispatch all the swift to search the world for a single rose: and, if they found one, to bring it back. Months went by before a humming-bird chanced to discovered a solitary rose growing and clinging to a mountainside in a far off land. The humming-bird lifted the faint and pallid rose from its bed and brought it back. On arrival, medicine men and women immediately tended the rose and in a few days restored the rose to life. When he was well enough the rose was able to give an account of the destruction of the roses.
In a voice quivering with weakness, the rose said, “The rabbits ate all the roses.” The assembly raised an angry uproar. At the word, the bears and wolves and lynxes seized the rabbits by the ears and cuffed them around. During the assault the rabbits’ ears were stretched and their mouths were split open. The outraged animals might have killed all the rabbits that day had not the rose interceded on their behalf saying, “had you cared and watched us, we might have survived. But you were unconcerned. Our destruction was partly your fault. Leave the rabbits be.”
Reluctantly the angry animals release the rabbits. While the rabbits wounds eventually healed, they did not lose their scars which remained as marks of their intemperance. Nor did the roses ever attain their former brilliance or abundance. Instead the roses received from Nannabush thorns to protect them from the avarice of the hungry and the intemperate.
Nannabush, endowing the roses with thorns, warned the assembly, “you can take the life of plants; but you cannot give them life.”