The Indian Paintbrush

Text: So there was this little Native American boy who was born. He was not as strong as the other boys though, so when everybody else got named cool names such a “strong arms” or “fast legs,” I don’t quite remember what he was named, but it was kind of lame. He was not cool. So he’s growing up and he’s not strong so he goes to visit the shaman chief person and the guy’s like, “Just because you’re not strong doesn’t mean you don’t have other talents. Like, you might have something else. I know you’re going to be great!” So this kid is like obsessed with art and painting and stuff, and he’s always been painting as he’s been growing up. So he goes up to the top of this hill one day and he sees this gorgeous sunset and he’s like, “I want to paint that sunset.” Then this vision comes to him of this woman who is like, “Go find a buckskin as white as this,” and she holds up a white buckskin sheet (because they used to paint on leather), “and when you do, paint the sunset on it.” So he’s looking around trying to find this buckskin sheet. He’s painting and he can’t quite find the colors that match the sunset anywhere, and he’s trying to put it all together but he’s having some trouble.  So finally he gets the buckskin, but he still can’t get the colors. So he goes to the hill and he’s like, “Help me I need assistance.” So the vision lady says, “Come back tomorrow.” So he does, and when he gets back to the hill he has the exact paint that he needs on the ends of all of these paint brushes that we’re left for him, sticking out of the ground. And he paints the sunset on the sheet and he leaves the paintbrushes up there and he goes down the hill, and he shows his people his painting. And they’re like, “This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.” And they go back up in the morning and there’s these new beautiful red flowers that are blooming all over the countryside. And the real flowers are called the Indian paintbrushes and that’s what the Native Americans in that area use for red pigment.

Context: SH is a born and raised Texan studying psychology at USC. Her time in the south led her to be exposed to many different stories with western flairs while she was growing up.  The myth above is a story that she remembers learning at a very young age, and can be assumed to be very specific to Texas, for SH was very clear that most Texas children know this tale. I was told this piece of folklore over lunch one afternoon.

Interpretation: Myths are weird, sacred stories about creations and how the world came to be. In this case, this is the myth of how the Indian Paintbrush flowers came into existence. They don’t have any real world value because they do not interact with our world. If they do, it is considered a miracle. They are held as sacred truths and blueprints as to how we should go about living our lives. Sometimes myths are not easily translated from one language/culture to another. The Indian Paintbrush, however, contains pretty reasonable circumstance that explain how the red wildflowers came to exist when considered alongside other creation myths that would be considerably more outlandish when viewed from a western perspective.