|The turkeys spread their wide wings|
and fluttered away. (N.C.Wyeth)
Once upon a time, in Matsaki, New Mexico, there lived “ many rich Indians who owned large flocks of Turkeys. The poor people of the town herded them on the mesas, or on the plains around Thunder Mountain, at the foot of which Matsaki stood.” One of the turkey-herders was a girl who lived all by herself “in a little tumble-down hut. Her clothes were patched and ragged; and though she had a winning face and bright eyes, she was shameful to behold because her hair was uncombed, and her face dirty.” She earned scarcely enough to keep herself in rags and feed herself on crumbs. But she loved her turkeys, and sand to them each day as she drove them to the mesa. They always came to her when she called them. One day as the girl and her birds passed through the town, “she heard a man, who was standing upon a housetop, invite all the people of Zuñi and the other towns to come to a great dance.” This poor child had never in her life been allowed even to watch one of the great dances. How she longed to go to this one! She continued on her path until she was all alone on the mesa with her turkeys, and then she said aloud, “Alas! How could a girl so ugly and ill-clad as I am watch, and much less join in, the Great Dance?’ Then she drove her Turkeys to the plain and when night came, returned them to their cage on the edge of town.” Now, every day for the next three days this girl watched all of the people of her town make ready for the celebration. They stitched and mended clothing, oiled and cleaned shoes, and polished all of their silver jewelry. The girl mumbled aloud on the mesas about her desire to go so many times that the turkeys started listening to her. Although she never imagined that they understood her, in fact they did. On the day of the dance, when the girl was the only person left in the empty town, “ a big Gobbler strutted up to her. He made a fan of his tail, and skirts of his wings, and blushing with pride and puffing with importance he stretched out his neck and said: ‘Oh Maiden Mother, we know what your thoughts are like and truly pity you. We wish that, like the other people of Matsaki, you might enjoy the great dance. Last night, after you had placed us safely and comfortably in our cage, we said to ourselves, ‘Our Maiden Mother is just as worthy to enjoy the dance as any maiden of Matsaki or Zuñi. So now. listen, Maiden Mother,’ continued the old Gobbler,’ Would you like to go to the dance, and be merry with the best of your people? If you will drive us home early this afternoon, when the dance is most gay and the people are most happy, we will make you so handsome and dress you so prettily that no one will know you. And the young men will wonder whence you came, and lay hold of your hand in the dance.” Now, the turkey girl was only a little surprised that her turkeys could speak and understand what she said as well. She answered the Gobbler, “ My beloved Turkeys, how glad I am that we may speak together! But why should you promise me things that I know I cannot have?” And the bird told her to take them back to their home, and they would show her what they could do for her. But the big turkey added, “Only let me tell you one thing. If you remain kind and true of heart, no one knows what happiness and good fortune may come to you. But, if you forget us, your friends, and do not return to us before sunset, then we will think,’Behold! Our Maiden Mother deserves all her poverty and hard life, for when good fortune came, she forgot her friends and was ungrateful.’ ‘Never fear, my turkeys!’ cried the girl, ‘Never fear! Whatever you tell me to do, I will do. I will be as obedient as you have always been to me.” So that day, just past noon, the turkeys marched back to their cage on the edge of town, and invited the turkey girl to come inside with them. She took off her rags and laid them on the floor as they told her to, and the big gobbler, “ picked and picked at it, and trod upon it. Lowering his wings, he began to strut back and forth upon it. Next, taking it up in his beak, he puffed and puffed and laid it down at the feet of the girl—a beautiful white, embroidered mantle!” Each piece of her clothing she laid out, and each one the birds strutted and pecked over until “each garment was made into a new and beautiful thing as that worn by any maiden of Matsaki. Before the girl put these things on, the Turkeys circled about her, singing and brushing her with their wings, until she was clean, and her skin as smooth and bright as any maiden of Matsaki.” When she was dressed, the oldest turkey asked her to wait a moment, and then “ spreading his wings, he trod round and round, throwing his head back, and laying his wattled beard upon his neck. By and by he began to cough, and he produced in his beak a beautiful necklace. And one by one, the other Gobblers did the same thing, and coughed up earrings and all the ornaments befitting a well-clad maiden, and laid them at the feet of the poor Turkey girl.” Now she was ready to go to the dance. But the turkeys bade her leave their gate open, in case, after all, she broke her word and forgot them. “I will surely remember you, my Turkeys!” she said, and ran towards Old Zuñi. When she arrived at the dance, everyone wondered who the mysterious girl in the rich attire could be. All of the Chiefs hosting the dance came and invited her to join the dancing, and “with a blush and a smile and a toss of her hair over her eyes, the girl stepped into the circle, and the finest youths among the dancers sought to lay hold of her hand.” And so she danced on and on. The afternoon passed, and she thought to herself that she would stay just a bit longer, such fun was it to dance and be beautiful. The sun began to set, and still the girl could not tear herself away from the merriment. And then the sky darkened, and she remembered the promise she had made to her turkeys. She fled from the Chiefs, thumping along the path towards the town. But her turkeys “began to wonder and wonder that their maiden did not return to them. And when the Sun had set, the old Gobbler mournfully said,'Alas! It is as we might have known! She has forgotten us! So she is not worthy of better things than those she has been used to! Let us go to the mountains, and endure captivity no longer since our maiden mother is not so good and true as we once thought of her.' So, gobbling and calling to one another, and gobbling, gobbling, in a loud voice, they trooped out of their cage, and ran through the cañon, and around Thunder Mountain, and up the valley." When the turkey girl got back to their cage and found it empty, she ran as fast as she could along the trail. She could see her flock in the distance. Now she was almost caught up to them, and she could hear their sad singing, " Oh, our Maiden Mother whom we loved so well, to the dance went today! Therefore, as she lingers near the cañon mesa, we'll all run away!" And the more the girl called after them, the faster they trotted. Finally, they spread their wings and "fluttered away over the plain above. As for the girl, she looked down at her garments, and lo, they were changed again rags and patches and dirt! And she was the same poor Turkey girl that she had been before. Weary and weeping, and very much ashamed, she returned to Matsaki."
From Anthology of Children's Literature (1935/1948) Johnson, Scott & Sickels.
Illustration from N.C.Wyeth's Pilgrims (San Souci, R. 1991)
Notes: The book that this was taken from is illustrated by N.C. Wyeth, though this picture is not from that book. This is a very sad story, one of the few Cinderellas that does not have a happy ending. Perhaps this one was told to children out of a different kind of love, the kind that reminds them that there really are consequences for going back on your word.
Montessori Connection Ages 6-12: American History/American Indians/New Mexico OR Artists/N.C.Wyeth
1. Read this story again, and pay attention to what the turkey girl promises, and what she actually does.
2. Think about whether the ending seems fair to you.
3. Learn more about the American Indians of New Mexico:The Native American Look Book: Art and Activities for Kids or Coyote: A Trickster Tale from the American Southwest, or Spirit in the Stone: A Handbook of Southwest Indian Animal Carvings and Beliefs.