THERE IS A BIRD in some states of Northern Mexico which reminds me of a fussy old maid with her hair all awry who has come to breakfast late to get her coffee. This bird is a lot larger than a dove and the most dilapidated looking creature one almost ever saw. His feathers, so dull that you could scarcely call them any color, are ruffed like the old maid's hair and seem to be about to fall from his body. All together the bird appears to be a miserable creature. They call him the “Tengo Frío” Bird (the I-am-cold bird).
You hardly ever hear this bird make a sound during the daytime, but in the mountain region of Northern Mexico, around about midnight, I am told that he is heard most frequently, and anyone not familiar with the creature, hearing his cry, thinks he hears a human being.
Although I have known of the Tengo Frío Bird for years, I had paid no attention to him until Jack Butterfield, who had been assisting in some surveying on the Isthmus of Tehuantepec some thirty years ago, told me a legend he had heard from an old Indian guide for the surveying party. Jack got the legend late one night while most of the party were wrapped in blankets around the campfire, asleep. The old Indian sat in typical style, his head resting on his knees with his serape thrown around him.
Jack, having drunken a large supply of coffee, could not sleep and was sitting by the fire, talking to the Indian when he heard the shrill cry, “Tengo frío, tengo frío.” He asked the Indian who it could be that cold out in the wilderness at that time of the night. The Indian grunted and said that it was the Tengo Frío Bird. After considerable questioning, Jack finally got from the guide this quaint legend.
Many years before, about the time Cortez came to Mexico with horses, there was an Indian Chief living on one side of a great mountain and having his range to the west. He had a small but well trained tribe of warriors, and three sons. Two of these sons were mighty warrior chiefs who led in battle, but the youngest son refused to take any part in the wars. Apparently he was what a white man would call a sissy. He went in the woods every day, for he knew the birds and beasts and could understand their languages. Frequently he talked to his wild friends and learned all their ways. They considered him their counselor and friend.
By this time, some of the horses that Cortez let aloose in Mexico were roaming the country, and this young chieftain could even talk to them, and unknown to his father or members of the tribe, he became an expert horseman.
Young Chief, as we shall call him, also was very adept with the bow and arrow, but he never used them to kill.
On the other side of the mountain was another chief, who was at peace with the father and the three sons. A close friendship had developed between the two chiefs and their tribes, and while they warred upon other Indians, they did not make war among themselves. Each respected the hunting grounds of the other, for this chief's territory ranged toward the south.
Now it so happened that the second had only one child, a daughter, and as stories usually go, she was very beautiful. When the time came for her to marry, the old chief decided that she should have as a husband a young warrior who was the most skillful among all others. And in order to find out who this young warrior was, he decided to hold a tournament.
Now it happened that our young chief who would not fight had seen the girl and had fallen in love with her. He brooded over his love for a long time, and finally he decided that he would enter the tournament along with his two fighting brothers. Of course these brothers laughed him to scorn when he mentioned being one of the contestants. Young Chief decided to confer with his bird friends. The birds agreed that they would have to make him the most colorful robe that any Indian ever had. They called together all the birds and started weaving the robe of many colors. Nearly every bird gave a few feathers. But there was among them one bird that had so many beautiful feathers of so many different colors, that he was stripped naked by the time the robe was finished.
There was a wide exclamation from the other Indians when Young Chief came out arrayed in his robe, carrying his bow and arrows and riding a beautiful horse that they had never seen before. He went with his brothers to the tournament to try to win the maiden. He rode of course, while his two brothers trailed afoot.
The tournament was held in the early fall and was accompanied by the usual long dances, feasting of the corn and other ceremonies, besides the tests of skill, which naturally took many days. Now as the days went on, our bird friend, who had been stripped of all his feathers, began to get chilly at night time, but he was sacrificing for a friend so what difference did it make? At first he simply got under a leaf and endured the night which got colder gradually, then he began to huddle up to other birds. They did not like this because he had no feathers to give them warmth, so they moved away. The bird had to hop from tree to tree, bothering his companions, until along in October, the nights grew so chilly that he could stand it no longer. He then began his shrill cry, “Tengo frío, tengo frío,” and kept up this cry so long that he had the bird world all disturbed.
After a conference one day, the birds decided that something would have to be done, so they sent a spy to see how the tournament was progressing. The spy found that Young Chief had won the maiden, but that her father directed a period of feasting and more exhibitions in honor of the occasion. The birds could put up with the loud cries of their friend no longer. They called all birds together and decided each would have to contribute some feathers to make their naked friend a coat. Naturally none wanted to give up their prettiest feathers; they gave only the faded ones that they were about to shed. Young Chief did not return with his bride until December and the growing season for feathers was over.
So that is how the Tengo Frío Bird got his name.