Why the Dove is on Our Valentines
Adapted from an Indian Folk Tale
A long time ago when there were no white men in our country, but only Indians who lived in the forest, there was a timid little Indian boy.
All the other Indian lads loved the dark, so full of stars, and moonlight; but this boy was afraid of the dark and did not venture out of his father's wigwam after the sun had set. The other Indian lads hunted bears, and sailed the swift rapids in frail birch-bark canoes, and had no fear of anything that ran, or stalked, or flew. But the Indian boy about which this story is told was afraid of all the wild creatures of the forest. He never ventured far away from the safe circle of his home campfire. Most of all was the boy afraid of Hoots, the bear.
This was because Hoots was a part of the forest. He hid himself by day, for he was afraid of bows and swift flying arrows. But at night, the bear prowled near the Indian camp, and could be heard from one end of the forest to the other, his great feet crunching through the dried bushes and twigs.
In those days the Indians believed that a good spirit, called the manito, watched over them, and guided them, and kept them from harm. The story tells that the manito was walking one day through the trees of the forest when he saw this little Indian boy, hiding behind a pine tree and giving loud cries of terror.
"What is this that I hear?" asked the manito. "No Indian boy ever cries. Come forth that I may see who the coward is, and learn of what he is afraid."
So the boy came out from behind the pine tree and spoke to the manito,"I have been sent with my bow and arrows to hunt for food for my mother to cook," he said, "but I can go no farther in the forest. I am afraid of Hoots, the great bear, who lives in it."
"You should be afraid of nothing, my son, not even of Hoots, the bear," warned the manito.
"But I can't help being afraid of Hoots; I think that he may eat me," said the boy, and at that he began crying again, "Boo-hoo, boo-hoo."
"There shall be no coward among the Indians," said the manito. "And I see that you will always be afraid. I shall change your form into that of a bird. Whenever any one looks at you, he will say, 'There is the bird that is the most timid of all.'"
As the manito finished speaking, the Indian boy's deerskin cloak fell to the ground; his bow and arrows dropped too, for he had no longer any hands with which to hold them. He was suddenly completely covered with a coat of soft gray feathers. His moccasins fell off, and his feet turned into the wee feet of a bird. He wanted to call his mother, but his voice had changed to the plaintive call of a dove, and the only sound he was able to make was, "Hoo, hoo!"
"You are now the dove," said the manito, "and you will be a dove as long as you live. Of all birds you will be the shyest. And every one who sees you and hears your call will know that you were once afraid of Hoots, the bear."
So, for years and years, the dove flew fearfully here and there, uttering his timid call, "Hoo, hoo." At last white men came, and were sorry for him, and built dove-cotes where he and all his family could be sheltered and live in peace. There seemed to be no work at first for the doves to do, but at last it was discovered that they could carry letters tied about their necks and hidden in their feathers. They flew quickly with them to escape danger.
That is why there are pictures of doves on our valentines. The doves grew brave enough to carry messages of love from one person to another, but they are always timid and keep the love that is in the valentine a secret from all except the person to whom it is sent.