The "partridges" referred to in Native American legends were probably actually
grouses or quails. Partridge are not native to North America. Though some European animals
such as horses did become important in Native American folklore, partridge were
not introduced to North America until the early 1900's, and Native American myths
about "partridges" were recorded in the 1800's, as well as translations for the word
"partridge" being given in 17th-century dictionaries of Native American languages.
Since several species of grouse and quail are native to North America, the most sensible
explanation is that the Native Americans were actually referring to those, and the
English and early American people who translated their words misidentified the birds as
Regardless, none of these three birds are mentioned very often in Native American
folklore or traditional stories, except as a food source. When they do appear, partridge
are usually portrayed as foolish and gullible birds or as inept spouses and parents.
An exception is the Mi'kmaq tragic hero Pulowech (translated as "Partridge" in English,
though one of our Mi'kmaq volunteers identified him as a ruffed grouse), who behaves
bravely and honorably. The Chippewa tribe also uses the grouse as one of its clan animals;
this clan, too, is frequently called the Partridge Clan in older documents (although
the Ojibwe name of the clan and its totem, Aagask, refers specifically to a prairie grouse.)
The Cherokee also have a Partridge Dance among their tribal dance traditions; the Cherokee
word refers to a quail.
Native American Partridge Gods and Spirits
Pulowech (Micmac) Uapineu-napeu, the Partridge Master (Innu)